TEHRAN (AFP) â€” Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday warned that Iran was prepared â€œto pay a priceâ€ and â€œresistâ€ to realise the aims of its contested nuclear programme amid an intensifying standoff with the West.
In a speech marking the 18th anniversary of the death of Iranâ€™s revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Khamenei signalled Tehran has no intention of caving in to the key Western demands on its atomic drive.
â€œThe only way for a nation to realise its rights is vigilant resistance. They should be alert, recognise their rights and insist on it,â€ Khamenei told thousands packed into Khomeiniâ€™s shrine in the southern outskirts of Tehran.
â€œA nation that wants to reach independence must pay a price. If it wants to preserve its rights against bullies, then it has to pay a price,â€ said Khamenei to chants of â€œnuclear energy is our natural rightâ€ and â€œdeath to Americaâ€.
â€œIt cannot sit in a corner and expect development and progress,â€ he added.
Khameneiâ€™s speech comes at a crucial moment in the crisis over Iranâ€™s nuclear programme, with the United States and Western powers pushing for a third set of UN sanctions to punish Tehran for its nuclear defiance.
Iran has infuriated the West by refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, a process Europe and the United States fear could be used to make nuclear weapons and want Tehran to suspend immediately.
Iran has repeatedly said it has no intention of suspending enrichment and is instead working on expanding the programme by installing hundreds of centrifuges at an underground plant in the central city of Natanz.
Talks between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani last week ended without any breakthrough with both sides seemingly sticking defiantly to their positions.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the â€œonly questionâ€ worth discussing was whether Iran was prepared to suspend uranium enrichment.
Seated on a platform above the crowds of faithful jostling beneath, a defiant Khamenei scoffed at the notion of Iran â€œbeggingâ€ to Western powers to allow its nuclear drive to continue.
â€œIranians should not beg for their right to obtain nuclear energy. They should not beg to the domineering world powers. This is not the way of an independent and free nation,â€ said Khamenei.
He said that Iran showed in the 1980-1988 war against Saddam Husseinâ€™s Iraq and the 1979 revolution led by Khomeini that it would â€œnever back down to defend its rights and the truthâ€. â€œThe world has seen that Iranians will never move away from danger,â€ said Khamenei.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons and has never ruled out the use of military force to make Iran heed the Security Councilâ€™s ultimatum.
Tehran insists it wants only to generate energy for a growing population and its leaders have vowed they will hit back hard against any attack on atomic installations.
Returning to one of his favourite themes, Khamenei also railed against conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis which he said were a Western plot aimed at sowing divisions among Muslims.
â€œStaining your hands with the blood of a Muslim brother is an unforgivable sin which some are doing in the name of Islam. This is abandoning Islam. A war between the Shiites and Sunnis is one of the enemiesâ€™ biggest plots.â€