Ahmadinejad says Iran won’t negotiate over its “nuclear rights”

TEHRAN, Iran: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran will not negotiate over its “nuclear rights” but said the government was prepared to answer questions from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

The comments Friday came as French diplomatic officials said Iran is set to run almost 3,000 centrifuges by the end of the month, nearing the threshold for industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

Ahmadinejad said Iran has already achieved proficiency in the whole nuclear fuel cycle, from extracting uranium ore to enriching it, and that Tehran has removed any hurdles in the way of its nuclear progress.

“The Iranian nation favors talks but it won’t negotiate over its definite and legal nuclear rights. They (world powers) have to know this,” Ahmadinejad said in comments before Friday prayers in Tehran.

He added he believed the nuclear issue was over and Iran will ignore attempts by the United States and its European allies to further politicize the issue.

“From our point of view, Iran’s nuclear issue has been closed. The fact that these powers are screaming tells us the case is closed. This is a great victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.

Two rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to halt enrichment, a process that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or materials needed for nuclear weapons.

The United States, France and Britain are seeking a third round of sanctions against Iran but in a setback for the U.S., Iran won a two-month reprieve from new U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program last month.

The Bush administration and its European allies ceded to Russian and Chinese demands to give Tehran more time to address international concerns.

The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons but Tehran has denied the charges saying its nuclear program is merely geared towards generating electricity, not bomb.

Iran says it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.

Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush denied in an interview with Arab television that the U.S. is gearing up to attack Iran and said he remains committed to working diplomatically to resolve the standoff with Tehran over its nuclear program.

The president, in an hour-long interview with Al-Arabiya, also reiterated his pledge to negotiate with Iran once it gives up its nuclear program.

“I have said that if they suspend their nuclear program, we will be at the table,” Bush said, according to a transcript of the interview the White House released on Friday. “But they have so far refused to do that.”

Bush brushed off as “gossip” reports in the Arab press that he has issued orders to senior U.S. military officials to prepare for a major, precise strike on Iran during the end of January or February.

“I would call that empty propaganda,” Bush said.