TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Monday that his nation would continue to pursue its nuclear program "forcefully." The remarks came one day before Iran's self-imposed deadline for responding to an international package of incentives intended to persuade the nation to voluntarily stop enriching uranium.
In a speech to a group described by Iranian television news as "Islamic intellectuals," Khamenei stayed consistent with Iran's confrontational, no-backing-down tone while remaining vague in terms of substance. He gave no indication of what "forceful" meant, though over the past week, and again on Monday, officials said Iran would refuse to give up uranium enrichment.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has made up its mind based on the experience of the past 27 years to forcefully pursue its nuclear program and other issues it is faced with, and will rely on God," he said in remarks reported on the Iranian state news. "Be patient, and hopefully we will taste a sweet outcome."
Iran's defiance was offered up on several fronts on Monday, even as officials here said that within 24 hours the leadership would give a formal response to the proposal offered by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. One official, in an interview with the Iranian Fars News Agency, said Tehran was moving ahead with plans to start up a "heavy water" plant that would feed a nuclear reactor. Beyond that, The Associated Press reported that Iran turned inspectors away from a nuclear facility in Natanz, which would be a violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
One day earlier, Iran had held military exercises in which it test-fired surface-to-surface missiles during a second day of war games.
Political analysts in Tehran with personal relationships with those in government and security agencies said they were expecting Iran to respond with what might be called a conditional approval of the package — accepting some elements in whole, calling for negotiating over other elements and rejecting the demand that it completely stop uranium enrichment. At the same time, they said, the leadership was already preparing for sanctions but hoped that by leaving room for additional negotiations, it would encourage China and Russia to help Iran buy some more time without sanctions.
"As usual, nobody really expects Iran to give a definitive answer to the package," said Mohammad Hossein Hafezian, a specialist on Middle East issues in Tehran. "It is very difficult for this system to make compromise — to reverse or retreat."