Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed Thursday to resist Western pressure over his country's disputed nuclear program, as the US warned continued defiance could result in tough measures by the UN Security Council.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not succumb to these pressures and it considers the continuation (of its nuclear program) a main objective," state-run television quoted Khamenei as saying. He called the current standoff over Tehran's nuclear program an unwarranted "Western outcry."
Speaking to Iranian nuclear experts in Tehran, Khamenei said achieving nuclear technology was more important than mining for oil in Iran, where oil revenue makes up some 80 percent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
"Let me tell you, the importance of achieving and using nuclear energy is higher than oil exploration for our country," he was quoted as saying.
The United States and Europe urged Iran Thursday to lift a veil of secrecy over its nuclear activities and freeze uranium enrichment, with Washington warning that continued defiance could result in tough measures by the UN Security Council.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Iran is ready to enter negotiations on an offer by the UN.
"The Iranian side responded positively to the six-nation proposal for a way out of the crisis," Putin told reporters after meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Russian leader said "Iran is ready to enter negotiations" and that he hoped in the near future that Iran would set a date for the start of talks.
The Iranian president, who like Putin was in Shanghai for a regional summit, was not immediately available for comment.
A positive Iranian response potentially would boost the most significant diplomatic initiative in more than three years of on-again, off-again negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. The offer made last month by the US, three EU countries, China and Russia was the first time that the UN powers agreed to a joint approach.
At the start of their meeting, Putin emphasized Russia's strong support for Iran but also urged Ahmadinejad to meet the West's concerns.
"Russia has always been a reliable partner of Iran," Putin said. He said Iran had a right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but he called on Tehran to "completely assuage the concerns of the international community about proliferation."
In response, Ahmadinejad said, "Our positions are clear and very close to one another."