UNITED NATIONS – Critics of Iran's nuclear program are "bullying" Iran, its current president and a former president declared Friday in response to a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that opens the way for additional sanctions against Iran.
The comments from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in separate speeches, appeared to show that the Iranian ruling establishment is closing ranks ahead of the possible new measures.
The International Atomic Energy Agency report Thursday said Iran has ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment -- a possible pathway to nuclear arms -- and has instead expanded its program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.
Divisions had emerged within the Iranian leadership over Ahmadinejad's handling of the nuclear standoff following the council's adoption of limited economic sanctions against Iran in December.
Some Iranians believe Ahmadinejad has been too antagonistic toward the U.S. and its allies. Rafsanjani in recent weeks has emerged as a high-level advocate of a more conciliatory stance toward the West in the nuclear dispute.
But Rafsanjani told worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in Tehran, the Iranian capital, that Western countries would fail to achieve anything by pressuring Iran over its nuclear activities.
And, in northern Iran, Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands "The Iranian nation has resisted all bullies and corrupt powers and it will fully defend all its rights," state television quoted him as saying.
The hardline president appeared to dismiss the IAEA report to the U.N. Security Council, though he did not name either organization -- or the United States -- directly.
"If a few states do not believe that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful, this is of no importance whatsoever," state television quoted the president as telling a rally in Fuman.
"This is the spirit of arrogance and culture of aggressive powers," the official Islamic Republic News Agency also quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during the same speech.
But later, while touring Roudbar, another northern town, the president spoke of his fellow Iranians as being "peaceful and seeking friendship." IRNA quoted him as telling residents of the olive-growing town, "You threaten, but this people's first response is to present you with an olive branch."
The IAEA's report follows the expiration Wednesday of a 60-day grace period for Iran to halt uranium enrichment.
"Following yesterday's report, they again began a harsh steps and threats while thinking about another resolution," Rafsanjani, a high-ranking cleric who holds seats on two of Iran's most important government bodies, said in the speech broadcast live by state radio.
In a warning to the U.S. and its Western allies who want Iran to roll back its nuclear program, Rafsanjani said, "If you continue this bullying way, you will definitely make many troubles for yourselves, the world and the region."
But he also reiterated Iran's offer for talks. "We -- all of us, our officials, our leader -- are ready to provide you full assurances." He did not elaborate.
The council issued three demands to Iran when it adopted its resolution Dec. 23 -- freeze uranium enrichment, stop building heavy water facilities and fully cooperate with the IAEA.
The United States and its Western allies have insisted Iran must suspend enrichment before it will enter any negotiations over its nuclear program -- a condition Tehran has rejected as it pushes ahead with developing its enrichment facilities.
The United States, after the IAEA submitted its report Thursday, said key countries would meet next week to try to develop a new U.N. resolution on the standoff.
In Washington, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said he will travel to London on Monday to meet with the United States' negotiating partners to try to draft a new resolution on Iran.
"It is effectively thumbing its nose at the international community," he said of Iran.
Burns said he hopes the United States and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, can quickly draft a resolution.
Among the permanent council members, Britain and France are likely to join the U.S. in a call for harsher sanctions than Russia and China will accept. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told his Iranian counterpart that his country hoped "to peacefully resolve" the nuclear issue, the Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin likewise reiterated his country's desire for a diplomatic negotiated solution.
"We should not lose sight of the goal -- and the goal is not to have a resolution or to impose sanctions," Churkin said Thursday. "The goal is to accomplish a political outcome."
Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, but the United States and other Western countries accuse it of using it as a cover to develop weapons.