TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's supreme leader and its president said Thursday that Tehran would not abandon its nuclear program and rejected its referral to the U.N. Security Council as unjust.
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, told a group of clerics that Iran would not drop its nuclear ambitions, state television reported.
"Authorities are obliged to continue toward achieving advanced technology, including nuclear energy," he said. "The people and the government will resist any force or conspiracy."
He charged that Washington was looking for an excuse to continue what he called a psychological war against his country.
"This time, they have used nuclear energy as an excuse. If Iran quits now, the case will not be over. The Americans will find another excuse," he said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was similarly defiant in the face of mounting international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. He warned that the West will suffer more than Iran if it takes action against its nuclear program.
"They know that they are not capable of causing the least harm to Iranian people," Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Iran's western province of Lorestan, according to the ISNA news agency. "They will suffer more."
Just a day earlier, Iran threatened the United States with "harm and pain" as the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency ended a three-day meeting in Vienna, Austria, over Iran's nuclear program, formally opening the path to Security Council action.
The Security Council, whose action could range from a mild statement urging compliance to sanctions or even military measures, was expected to debate the issue next week.
The IAEA put the council on alert over the issue last month but delayed any action to give more time for diplomacy under an agreement by the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — the five permanent Security Council members that wield veto power.
The five countries met in New York on Wednesday to discuss a first response to the crisis.
Washington is seeking harsh measures against Iran, but economic and political sanctions are unlikely because of opposition from Russia and China, which have strategic and commercial ties with Tehran.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns suggested Wednesday that America would push for sanctions if appeals and demands failed.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated that Moscow would not support sanctions, and he ruled out military action.
Wednesday's IAEA meeting featured an intense debate over a critical report on Iran's nuclear program. Soon after the meeting ended, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he would send the report to U.N. headquarters in New York within 24 hours.
ElBaradei cast Security Council involvement as a continuation of diplomacy. He suggested Washington might need to talk to Iran directly if negotiations reach the stage of focusing on security guarantees to Tehran in exchange for concessions on its nuclear program.
ElBaradei's report accused Iran of withholding information, possessing plans linked to nuclear weapons and refusing to freeze uranium enrichment — a possible pathway to nuclear arms.
Enrichment can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for an atomic bomb.
Tehran's newspapers published news of the IAEA decision on their front pages Thursday. The official Persian-language daily Iran called the move "a message of weakness and failure" by the nuclear agency.
A senior British official said Thursday that Iran could acquire the know-how to build a nuclear bomb within a year, but it would take much longer than that to construct a weapon.
The government official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly disclose the information, called a year "a realistic period" to get the technology.
The official did not outline how the government reached its assessment of how long Iran might need to construct the weapon.
The official said that even if Tehran is able to develop the technology, it was still uncertain whether Iran would eventually be able to construct a bomb given international efforts to prevent it from acquiring the necessary equipment.
A total of 195 Iranian lawmakers, meanwhile, issued a statement urging authorities to implement a law passed last year requiring the government to block intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities if it is referred to the Security Council.
They also asked the government to resume suspended nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment. Tehran already has restarted that program on a small-scale.
Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and only aimed at generating electricity, but an increasing number of countries have come to share the U.S. view that Tehran is seeking to develop atomic weapons.
The U.S. and its European allies want Iran to give up uranium enrichment.
Iran has rejected the demand, saying it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.