By By NASSER KARIMI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's president said Tuesday that Western sanctions could at the most cause a "quick tap on the brakes" in Tehran's nuclear program but will not slow it down substantially, state TV reported.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying that the "West is not happy with Iran's progress" in technological fields including uranium enrichment — a possible pathway to nuclear arms.
"You think that by resorting to oil and currency issues, you are able to press the Iranian nation and stop it from its path? You are wrong. Maybe this works like a quick tap on the brakes in driving, but the Iranian nation will find its way quickly and will continue," said Ahmadinejad.
Iranian leaders have consistently taken a defiant tone toward the series of punitive oil and banking measures enacted by the U.S. and Europe over concerns Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
Iran's oil production has fallen by about half and the country's currency has plummeted to less than half its value over the past months.
Iran denies that it is pursuing weapons technology, saying that its program is for peaceful purposes.
"Do you really worry about a nuclear bomb?" Ahmadinejad ask. "No, this is mere pretext. These are sheer lies. You are unhappy because you see Iran is progressing. You want to take revenge on the Iranian nation but you cannot." He said the West should respect Iran's nuclear rights.
Also on Tuesday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tehran might consider opening the disputed Parchin site to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
"If we reach an extensive agreement (with the West) and they recognize our rights, we will take measures to help ease the IAEA's concerns," he said.
The remarks come just days after Tehran again rebuffed U.N. nuclear agency inspectors from visiting the Parchin military base near the Iranian capital. The IAEA has linked the site to suspected secret nuclear weapons research but Iran denies that, insisting Parchin is a conventional military facility.
In a parallel comment, Iran's nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi said Iran would not stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, which the West fears bring Iran closer to a capacity to produce nuclear weapon.
"Iran will continue 20 percent uranium enrichment until it meets its needs," Abbasi was quoted as saying by Iran's cabinet news websit, dolat.ir.
Uranium enriched to more than 90 percent can be used for nuclear weapons. Uranium enriched to 20 percent can be brought to weapons-grade more quickly, but Iran says it needs the higher grade for cancer treatment and as fuel for a Tehran research reactor.