Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged to continue the Iranian nuclear program for the sake of "progress" and the "honor of the country" as the United Nations Security Council deadline to stop the program was due to run out on Wednesday.
The Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran in December and gave Tehran 60 days to halt its uranium enrichment program or face increased sanctions. That deadline expires on Wednesday, and a report on Iran's compliance from International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei is expected in the next day or so.
Speaking in the northern Iranian town of Siahkal, Ahmadinejad said that Iran would continue to work towards obtaining nuclear technology "in the shortest possible time."
"Obtaining this technology is very important for our country's development and honor," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). "It is worth it to stop other activities for 10 years and focus only on the nuclear issue."
Obtaining nuclear energy would advance the Iranian people by 50 years, he said.
The West believes that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover-up to develop an atomic bomb. Iran denies the charges.
It has been very difficult for the U.S. and Europe to rally Security Council members for dealing with Iran. So far, the agreed-upon sanctions have been so weak that they have not had much impact on Iran, analysts have said.
The standoff focuses on Iran's attempts to master the technology for enriching uranium, a process that can be used to make nuclear fuel -- and nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said that Iran would shut down its nuclear fuel cycle if others would, too.
"It's no problem," Ahmadinejad said. "But justice demands that those who want to hold talks with us shut down their nuclear fuel cycle program, too. Then we can hold dialogue under a fair atmosphere."
Dr. Ze'ev Maghen, director of Middle East studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, said that what happens next will depend on how the U.S. and Europe respond to Iran.
At the moment, there is speculation that the U.S. will launch a military strike against Iran despite denials that it plans to do so, Maghen said in a telephone interview.
It will take something "extremely serious" at their door, "a sword at their throat" to force Iran to back down, said Maghen. Until then, Iran will continue to go forward in its nuclear development.
Experts are divided as to how far away Iran is from actually mastering the uranium enrichment process. From that point, it could take a year or so to enrich enough uranium to make a bomb.
But most experts say that the turning point for Iran will be when it masters the uranium enrichment technology.
Experts and officials here and in Washington say that mounting a military strike against Iran would be a terrible option, but the only thing worse would be for Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb.
The State Department considers Iran to be a major backer of terrorism, including supporting the Hizballah terrorist organization, which Washington says is trying to topple the Western-backed Lebanese government. Israel says Iran is also supporting Palestinian terror groups, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, and analysts say that he believes it is his religious duty to spread radical Islamic ideology throughout the Middle East and beyond and doesn't mind using violence to do so.
According to Maghen, unless Iran believes that the U.S. is coming to "bomb the hell out of them," Tehran won't relent. Ahmadinejad is hoping that he can survive the term of President Bush, he said.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz quoted unnamed political sources in Jerusalem on Wednesday as saying that Washington was planning to propose a new United Nations Security Council resolution, which would include tougher sanctions against Tehran.
Part of the resolution would include an embargo against the sale of arms that could be used by terrorists, the paper said.
Iran is one of two backers of Hizballah. Israel has accused Iran (and Syria) of transferring weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon despite a U.N. resolution against it. Iran has also become more involved in funding and training Palestinian terrorists during the past year, Israel says.
Meanwhile, members of elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops are taking part in military training maneuvers this week.
Military sources were quoted as saying that the maneuvers were intended as defensive training. The Iranian news agency IRNA reported that 60,000 troops were taking part.
It certainly doesn't impress the U.S., said Maghen. It is supposed to impress the Iranian people and to prepare the soldiers for the possibility of war, he said.
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