Defying week-old U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran promised to expand its atomic research Wednesday as its president vowed to punish the West and force it to "sit at the negotiating table like a polite child" before agreeing to further talks.
Tehran, which insists its nuclear work is peaceful, said it will build four new reactors for atomic medical research. The U.S. and some of its allies believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and the Islamic Republic's plans to expand research could encourage calls in the West for more economic pressure against the country.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran will not make "one iota of concessions." He said he will soon announce new conditions for talks with the West, but first he wants to punish world powers for imposing sanctions.
"You showed bad temper, reneged on your promise and again resorted to devilish manners," he said of those powers. "We set conditions (for talks) so that, God willing, you'll be punished a bit and sit at the negotiating table like a polite child," he told a crowd during a visit to the central Iranian town of Shahr-e-Kord. His speech was broadcast live on state TV.
The Obama administration took its first step in implementing new sanctions Wednesday, leveling penalties against additional individuals and institutions it says are helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile programs and evade international sanctions.
The list includes a bank; 22 petroleum, energy and insurance companies; two individuals and four organizations that are part of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps; and five front companies and more than 90 ships that Iran's national maritime carrier has been using to try to evade sanctions. Some are based in Iran, while others are based in countries including Britain, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Germany.
"In the coming weeks we will continue to increase the financial pressure on Iran," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said. "We will continue to target Iran's support for terrorist organizations."
Geithner said at a White House news conference that the administration expects other countries to announce new penalties of their own against Iran soon.
The European Union is expected to announce additional steps Thursday. EU foreign ministers agreed earlier this week to consider tighter sanctions for Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
U.S. lawmakers also could press for additional embargoes after last week's U.N. Security Council sanctions — which were backed by Iranian allies Russia and China.
Iran is just one of the unpredictable foes whose nuclear ambitions are challenging the Obama administration.
North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons, warned on Wednesday that ongoing tension over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship could trigger nuclear war. A team of international investigators concluded that the ship was torn apart March 26 by a North Korean torpedo, an allegation the secretive North strongly denies.
North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper called the sinking a "minor accidental incident" in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, but said it could "trigger an all-out war and develop into a nuclear war." It called on the Security Council to impartially handle an investigation into the sinking.
South Korea's military dismissed North Korea's nuclear warning as "routine rhetoric" but said it was closely watching the North Korean military.
Iran has rebuffed a United Nations-drafted plan to suspend uranium enrichment and swap its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium for fuel rods. An alternative plan backed by Turkey and Brazil includes the uranium-for-rods exchange, but does not mandate a halt to Iran's ability to make its own nuclear fuel.
Ahmadinejad's caustic words for world powers reflect Iran's anger over the U.N.'s latest sanctions. Iran apparently didn't expect allies Russia and China to support such sanctions at a time it had made concessions over the terms of the suggested nuclear fuel swap.
Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani said lawmakers back the government's push to enrich uranium at a higher level since earlier this year as a response to "bullying countries."
Iran currently enriches uranium up to 20 percent levels — far short of the 95 percent plus enriched uranium needed for an atomic weapon, but well above the 3.5 percent level needed to fuel a reactor to produce electricity. Iran has justified its decision to go to higher enrichment by saying it needed to create fuel for a research reactor producing medical isotopes.
Iran's nuclear chief said there are plans to build four new medical research reactors, including one "more powerful" than the main facility, an aging 5-megawatt U.S.-made research reactor operating in Tehran.
The reactor Iran says it is designing will be similar to the U.S.-made reactor, but it has released few other details. It and any additional reactors will need 20 percent enriched uranium, as does the U.S.-made model.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by state TV's website as saying the new research reactor is for radioactive isotopes for medical needs of patients in Iran and abroad.
"Designing the reactor will be completed by the year end and two years will be needed to construct it. ... Our plan is to build four reactors in four corners of the country so that, given the short life of nuclear medicine, all patients will get the products throughout Iran," the website quoted him as saying.
Salehi also said Iran possesses technology to produce fuel rods for such reactors and the first should be ready sometime next spring.
The announcements reflect Iran's confusing response to the U.N. sanctions.
Ahmadinejad has countered with insults and dismissive remarks, but also claims the door is open for dialogue on the nuclear standoff. The huge obstacle, however, is that the talks must be on Iran's terms.
Ahmadinejad also attacked the U.S., saying Iran needs to save Americans from "their undemocratic and bullying government." He charged that the U.S. government controls what newspapers print and that its people cannot hold rallies opposing government policies.
Ahmadinejad was reacting to an invitation by the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to discuss the nuclear issue.
In another sign that tensions remain high, the British ambassador to Tehran was summoned to Iran's Foreign Ministry over allegations of British ties to terrorist activities in the country, according to reports by the semiofficial Mehr news agency and state-run Press TV late Wednesday.
Mehr said the call comes in the wake of Iran's arrests of a number of militants in the country. It identified the group as "hypocrites," a term Iran uses to describe the armed opposition People's Mujahedeen, and said Iran was demanding a British government investigation.
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