Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the West on Wednesday that sanctions will not stop his government from enriching uranium after a top European negotiator conceded "endless hours" of talks had made little progress and suggested the next stop might be the U.N.
The talks had been seen as a last-ditch attempt to avoid a full-blown confrontation between Iran and the U.N. Security Council after Tehran ignored an Aug. 31 deadline to suspend enrichment — a key step toward making nuclear weapons — or face punishment.
But Javier Solana, the European official who has been negotiating with the Iranians, told the European Parliament the Iranians had made "no commitment to suspend." The dialogue with the Iranians "cannot last forever" and it was up to Tehran "to decide whether its time has come to end," he said.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and not to make a bomb, and does not violate international law.
Solana said his talks had found "common ground" on some issues "but we have not agreed in what is the key point, which is the question of suspension of activities before the start of the negotiations."
He suggested that if the talks ended, the standoff should be moved to the Security Council.
In a speech shortly afterward, Ahmadinejad warned that sanctions would not dissuade his country from pursuing nuclear technology, including the enrichment of uranium.
"You are mistaken if you assume that the Iranian nation will stop for even a moment from the path toward using nuclear energy, due to your nagging," he told the West, speaking to a crowd of supporters outside Iran's capital.
"For 27 years they haven't allowed us to use technologies that they possess," Ahmadinejad added. "This nation is powerful and won't give in to one iota of coercion."
In an apparent response to Solana, the Iranian president said his nation favored continued negotiations.
"We are for talks. We can talk with each other and remove ambiguities. We have logic. We want talks to continue," he said.
Foreign ministers of the United States and five other major powers were expected to meet, possibly Friday in London, to discuss the situation.
Diplomats said the Security Council could meet as early as Monday to start work on a resolution imposing the first of a series of sanctions meant to make Iran roll back its program.
The United States has insisted that Tehran halt enrichment as a precondition for further talks on the Iranian nuclear program. But Iran ignored the Aug. 31 deadline set by the Security Council.
The Americans then agreed to let Solana hold more talks with the Iranians after that Aug. 31 deadline, after Russia, China and France spoke out against a rush to sanctions.
At first, both Solana and Iran's top negotiator, Ali Larijani, had signaled progress in the talks.
On Tuesday, however, diplomats said Larijani told Solana that the hardline Iranian leadership had rejected even a limited enrichment freeze.
One diplomat said Western council members — the United States, Britain and France — favor an embargo on sales of nuclear or missile technology to Tehran as a first sanctions step. That would be followed by other sanctions, including travel bans on Iranian officials and the freezing of their assets.
Iran has so far shown little concern about the prospect of such sanctions — perhaps because such limited sanctions would not greatly hurt the country overall.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding council members, traditionally oppose sanctions, and the United States could still face a tough fight getting them to agree to any truly punitive measures.
U.S. officials have said they intend to start with trying for relatively lower-level punishments as a way to persuade Russia and China to sign on.
The latest Iran standoff comes even as another nuclear controversy — involving North Korea — has grabbed the world's attention. North Korea's neighbors issued stern warnings Wednesday against Pyongyang's threat to carry out an unprecedented nuclear test, even as the isolated communist country insisted that such a move wouldn't be meant as a provocation.
South Korean officials said there was no sign a test was imminent and warned that such a test could prompt Japan to develop atomic weapons and threaten a regional arms race.
China — the North's main ally and key benefactor — called on Pyongyang to show calm and restraint, issuing an unusually pointed statement that referred to North Korea by name.