UN atomic agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, is in Tehran for talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator. Germany has appealed to the Iranian government to stop its uranium enrichment program.
El Baradei (left) talks to Iran's nuclear negotiatior Ali-Asqar Soltaniyeh
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday shunned international demands to freeze his country's controversial nuclear drive, as the head of the United Nations atomic agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, flew into Tehran in a bid to head off an escalation of the crisis.
"The situation is completely changed. We are a nuclear state," hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in the wake of a breakthrough in the country's disputed nuclear energy drive, seen in the West as a mask for weapons development.
Iran announced this week that its scientists had successfully enriched uranium to make nuclear fuel. The Islamic republic insists its program is peaceful, but the enrichment process can be extended to make the fissile core of a nuclear warhead. The UN Security Council has set April 28 as a deadline for Tehran to halt enrichment.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is adamant about Iran's nuclear ambitions
"We will not negotiate on our rights with anyone," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA. He added that nobody in the country "has the right to step back one iota from the path we are following."
ElBaradei tries to negotiate
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei arrived in Tehran during the night for talks with the regime's top nuclear negotiator and a message that appeared to be falling on deaf ears.
"We hope to convince Iran to take confidence-building measures including suspension of uranium enrichment activities until outstanding issues are clarified," ElBaradei told journalists at the airport.
"I would like to see Iran has come to terms with the request of the international community," adding that he still remained "hopeful the time is right for political solutions, through negotiations."
ElBaradei must give a report at the end of April on Iran's nuclear activities to the UN Security Council and the 35 states of the IAEA's governing council.
World powers consider stronger action toward Iran
Representatives of the five permanent members of the Council plus Germany are to meet in Moscow next Tuesday to discuss the crisis, with the long-running stand-off set to enter a period of far more robust diplomacy.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the 15-member Security Council to take "strong steps" and the White House said sanctions were now an option.
Officials from permanent Security Council members Britain, France and Russia, as well as German officials, all said Iran had taken a "step in the wrong direction."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German broadcaster ARD that suspicions about Iran's nuclear ambitions were triggered by Tehran's years-long, clandestine nuclear research. He said Iran's statements about its progress in atomic technology were a "renewed provocation that must not only be rejected, but which have also reinforced (international) concerns."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, was quoted as strongly opposing the use of force after US reports over the weekend suggested Washington was considering military action -- even a possible nuclear strike.