MOSCOW -- Iran's top nuclear negotiator insisted yesterday that Tehran would push ahead with its controversial nuclear program, and suggested it could break ties with the UN nuclear watchdog if the world inflicts punishments.
In a familiar mix of threats and offers, Ali Larijani said Iran wanted negotiations to ease the standoff over fears it is seeking atomic weapons, but would not abandon what he insisted was a peaceful nuclear energy program.
"We want to use our rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and in this context there will be no retreat, but we are ready for negotiations," Larijani said after talks with Russian officials.
In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran's enemies could not stop its nuclear fuel program, according to the state news agency IRNA.
Larijani said Iran was prepared to renew negotiations with the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana, or to hold talks "in any other format," according to Russian news agencies.
A European draft resolution that would impose UN sanctions on Iran "will not promote a political solution of the problem," Larijani said. "Those who support adopting the resolution want to aggravate the problems of the region."
Larijani held talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and met for hours with the head of Russia's Security Council, Igor Ivanov, who said discussions would continue today but revealed virtually nothing about their content.
With Russia calling for major changes that would water down the proposed sanctions, the visit appeared to highlight divisions among the five permanent Security Council members, which face potentially unbridgeable rifts on how to deal with Iran's defiance.
In comments that dovetailed with Russia's warnings that too much pressure could deepen Iran's defiance, Larijani warned that Tehran would reconsider its ties with the International Atomic Energy Agency if the council adopted the European proposal.
Russia and China continue to push for dialogue instead of UN punishment, despite the collapse last month of a European Union attempt to entice Iran into talks.
Both countries have major commercial ties with Iran and can veto UN Security Council resolutions as permanent members.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh suggested yesterday that his country might be forced to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, the clearest statement yet of such a possibility from a high-ranking official.
"I am not advocating an Israeli preemptive military action against Iran, and I am aware of its possible repercussions," Sneh said in comments published in The Jerusalem Post. "I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort."
Material from Reuters was included in this report.