TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's ultraconservative president-elect, at once defiant and at ease, vowed Sunday to restart the nation's controversial nuclear program and warned European negotiators that building trust required a mutual effort.
Asked about relations with the United States during his first news conference since Friday's election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (search) said Iran "is taking the path of progress based on self-reliance. It doesn't need the United States significantly on this path."
In a sign of tensions likely ahead, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (search) said Ahmadinejad was "no friend of democracy" and dismissed the vote as a "mock election."
Ahmadinejad entered the crowded chambers in Iran's municipal building with little fanfare, maintaining the unassuming style embraced by the roughly 17 million Iranians who voted him to power in a landslide victory.
He fielded questions confidently and smiled broadly when asked by an Iranian female journalist wearing a colorful head scarf whether he would introduce a strict dress code.
It wasn't his job to decide, he said.
"I am the president. There are people who make those decisions," Ahmadinejad said.
In his opening statement, he promised to shun extremism and cobble together a moderate regime. Yet critics say his election only consolidated the hard-liners' hold on power, and no reform-minded people remain in the government.
"He is no friend of democracy," Rumsfeld said on "Fox News Sunday" (search). "He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs, who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives, and my guess is over time the young people and women will find him as well as his masters unacceptable."
A key concern for the United States is Iran's 20-year-old nuclear program, revealed in 2002.
The United States alleges the program is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran insists it is only interested in generating electricity. Uranium enriched to low levels has energy uses, while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.
Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities in November to avoid possible sanctions from the U.N. Security Council (search), but it said all along the suspension was temporary. France, Britain and Germany have offered economic incentives in hopes of persuading Iran to permanently halt enrichment.
"Iran's peaceful technology is the outcome of the scientific achievements of Iran's youth," Ahmadinejad said. "We need the peaceful nuclear technology for energy, medical and agricultural purposes and our scientific progress. We will continue this."
He said Iran's decision would not change, but he did not say when the resumption would begin.
"This is the final path we have taken," he said.
Concerning Iran's negotiations with France, Britain and Germany, Ahmadinejad said he was waiting for specific offers to break the stalemate.
"We will continue talks with Europeans while preserving our national interests and insistence on the right of the Iranian nation to use nuclear energy," he said. "If there is to be trust-building, then it should be mutual."
Western leaders have worried that relations with Iran may become increasingly troublesome with Ahmadinejad as president.
As Tehran mayor, he also served as managing director of a newspaper affiliated with the Tehran municipality. He quickly replaced journalists who defended pro-democracy reforms with conservative writers.
He also replaced most district mayors considered pro-reform.
"We didn't have a revolution to have a democracy," he is widely quoted as saying, referring to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A former Revolutionary Guard commander, Ahmadinejad resurrected platitudes popular in the movement's early days.
"Iran can accomplish anything. Iranians have everything they need themselves to accomplish everything," he said Sunday.
His comments overlooked the fact that Iran's economy is staggering under the weight of high unemployment, double-digit inflation and interest rates of 25-30 percent on personal loans.
He also responded harshly to comments in Sunday's Rome daily La Repubblica, where European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini was quoted as saying: "We are waiting for clear words on human rights and the nuclear issue from the new president. But if the responses are negative, the European Union can't but freeze the dialogue with Iran."
Ahmadinejad said the European Union "should come down from its ivory tower and understand that they cannot talk to the Iranian nation in this way. We are ready for trust-building measures in all fields, but ... our nation is a great nation and they cannot talk to the Iranian nation in such an arrogant manner."
Ahmadinejad said he would seek to improve relations with other countries and "pay attention to improving relations with any country that doesn't seek hostilities against Iran."
His government's foreign policy would focus on "peace, moderation and coexistence," he said.
"Moderation will be the policy of (my) popular government. Extremism will have no place in (my) popular government."