UNITED NATIONS - Iran has left no doubt it intends to seek nuclear weapons now that it has violated a U.N. Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment, and the council must now be ready to impose sanctions, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Thursday.
Iran's president defiantly refused to compromise, saying his country won't be bullied into giving up its right to nuclear technology.
Security Council unanimity was not needed before taking action against Iran, Bolton said in a reference to continued Chinese and Russian reluctance to move quickly on sanctions.
He spoke shortly after the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran shows no signs of freezing enrichment, adding that Tehran started work on a new batch Aug. 24.
Iran's refusal to cooperate fully with the IAEA and its continued development of nuclear technology makes clear that it is seeking a nuclear bomb, Bolton told reporters. Iran contends its program is for peaceful purposes.
"There's simply no explanation for the range of Iranian behavior which we've seen over the years other than that they're pursuing a weapons capability," Bolton said.
Last month, the Security Council gave Iran until Aug. 31 to suspend uranium enrichment, and warned that it would consider sanctions if those activities weren't stopped. But it refused.
Bolton said the Security Council will wait to take any action until the foreign policy chief of the European Union, Javier Solana, meets with Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, sometime in the middle of next week.
"We're certainly ready to proceed here in New York when we're given the instructions to do so," Bolton said.
Despite statements from Russia and China expressing their reluctance for sanctions, Bolton said the world should not assume that they would not punish Iran. He underscored that the two had agreed to the council resolution warning of possible sanctions.
"Russia and China, through their foreign ministers, committed - committed - to seeking sanctions" if Iran didn't comply, Bolton said.
In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a large crowd that "the Iranian nation will not accept for one moment any bullying, invasion and violation of its rights."
He also said enemies of the country were trying to stir up differences among the Iranian people, but "I tell them: you are wrong. The Iranian nation is united."
"They claim to be supporting freedom but they support the most tyrannical governments in the world to pursue their own interests," he said, referring to the United States. "They talk about human rights while maintaining the most notorious prisons. Those powers that do not abide by God and follow evil are the main source of all the current problems of mankind."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said an Iranian refusal to freeze uranium enrichment by the deadline would be "very regrettable," and the international community would be unable to ignore it.
"We have made Iran a very, very good offer," she during a visit to the Baltic Sea port of Warnemuende, alluding to a package of incentives aimed at persuading Tehran to curb its nuclear activities.
If Iran does not accept, "we will not slam the door shut, but we cannot act as if nothing had happened," Merkel said, adding that the next step would have to be discussed, but gave no details.
The State Department has not said publicly what type of punishment it might seek. But U.S. and European officials have indicated they might push for travel restrictions on Iranian officials or a ban on sale of dual-use technology to Iran. The hope is to start with relatively low-level punishments in a bid to attract Russian and Chinese support, the officials have said.
More extreme sanctions could include a freeze on Iranian assets or a broader trade ban - although opposition to that by Russia, China and perhaps others would be strong, particularly since it could cut off badly needed oil exports from Iran.
Russia and China, which have traditional economic and strategic ties with Tehran, seem likely to resist U.S.-led efforts for a quick response, which means sanctions do not loom immediately. That has prompted the Bush administration to consider rallying its allies to impose sanctions or financial restrictions of their own, independent of the Security Council.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi shrugged off the possibility of sanctions, telling state-run television that Iran "will find a way to avoid pressure eventually."
The deadline was widely reported on the front pages of major Iranian newspapers. The daily Aftab said the showdown offers "the enemies" a chance to ratchet up pressure on Iran. Another newspaper, Kargozaran, expressed doubt that the U.S. would muster enough support within the Security Council for punitive sanctions.
It's not clear when exactly Thursday's deadline will run out. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said he believed it would end at 12:01 a.m. Friday in Tehran - or 3:31 p.m. Thursday at the Security Council in New York.
But diplomats said the exact timing was not particularly relevant for two reasons: They believe Iran already has given its answer; and they would almost certainly abandon their sanctions threat if Iran decides to suspend enrichment after the deadline.
On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad urged European members of the council against resorting to sanctions, saying punishment would not dissuade his country. Another top Iranian official urged Japan on Thursday to help peacefully resolve the standoff without sanctions.
Abbas Araghchi, deputy minister for legal and international affairs of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, met with Japan's foreign minister in a clear sign of Iran's continued efforts to lobby countries worldwide against support for sanctions.
"We are confident of the peaceful nature of our program. So if there is also goodwill and sincerity in the other side, we are sure that we can reach a good solution, a good conclusion through negotiations," Araghchi said.
Tehran insists it wants to enrich uranium as fuel solely for civilian nuclear power stations. However, the U.S. and other Western countries suspect it wants to use it in nuclear warheads.