Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that sanctions will not stop Iran from enriching uranium after a European negotiator conceded "endless hours" of talks had made little progress and suggested the dispute could wind up at the UN soon.
The talks had been seen as a last-ditch attempt to avoid a full-blown confrontation between Iran and the UN Security Council after Tehran ignored an Aug. 31 deadline to suspend enrichment -- a key step toward making nuclear weapons -- or face punishment.
The Iranian leader's comments on Wednesday -- and the view of senior UN diplomats who said that nearly two years of intermittent negotiations had failed -- suggested an emerging consensus that the time has finally come to consider Security Council sanctions.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and does not violate international law. Its refusal to give up enrichment compounds the failure of more than three years of UN inspections to banish suspicions that Tehran might have a secret weapons program. The conflict picked up steam after last year's election of the hard-line Ahmadinejad.
Javier Solana, the European official who has been negotiating with the Iranians, told the European Parliament on Wednesday that the Iranians had made "no commitment to suspend." Dialogue with the Iranians "cannot last forever" and it was up to Tehran "to decide whether its time has come to end," he said.
Solana said his talks had found "common ground" on some issues "but we have not agreed in what is the key point, which is the question of suspension of activities before the start of the negotiations."
He suggested that if the talks ended, the standoff should be moved to the Security Council.
In a speech shortly afterward, Ahmadinejad warned that sanctions would not dissuade his country from pursuing nuclear technology, including the enrichment of uranium.
"You are mistaken if you assume that the Iranian nation will stop for even a moment from the path toward using nuclear energy, due to your nagging," he told the West, speaking to a crowd of supporters outside Iran's capital.
"For 27 years they haven't allowed us to use technologies that they possess," Ahmadinejad added. "This nation is powerful and won't give in to one iota of coercion."
In an apparent response to Solana, the Iranian president said his nation favored continued negotiations.
"We are for talks. We can talk with each other and remove ambiguities. We have logic. We want talks to continue," he said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers from five other major powers were expected to meet, possibly today in London, to discuss the situation.
Diplomats said the Security Council could meet as early as Monday to start work on a resolution imposing the first of a series of sanctions meant to make Iran roll back its program.
Iran was initially referred to the Security Council in February by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, which said Tehran's suspicious activities represented breaches of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Vienna-based agency also said it could not be sure Iran was not trying to make weapons.
The US insisted that Tehran halt enrichment as a precondition for further talks on its nuclear program, but Iran ignored the Aug. 31 deadline set by the Security Council.