A defiant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed on Saturday to inaugurate “important nuclear projects” within days and lashed out at Israel, saying the “story” of the Holocaust underpinning its existence had been “smashed.”
In a speech marking the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad said his nation will “never yield” to Western sanctions and threats of military action from Israel and the US.
A crowd of an estimated 30,000 people in Tehran’s main Azadi (Freedom) Square cheered Ahmadinejad’s words, despite the winter weather. Many, including exuberant high-school students, held aloft placards declaring: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
In pointed messages aimed at those two arch-foes, Iranian officials planted a full-scale model of a US spy drone captured in December at an entrance to the square and hosted on the stage the Hamas leader of Gaza.
Hamas “will never recognize Israel,” Gaza leader Ismail Haniya told the crowd just before Ahmadinejad spoke.
His remarks were likely to complicate efforts to form with rival party Fatah a Palestinian unity government in the face of strong opposition from the Jewish state, which views Hamas as a terrorist organization armed by Iran.
Ahmadinejad gave no details about the “important nuclear projects” about to be made public.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has already said Iran is enriching uranium to 20 percent — a level significantly closer to military-grade 90 percent purity — at a mountain bunker near the Shiite shrine city of Qom.
Iranian officials have said that they will be inserting their first domestically made 20-percent enriched fuel plate into a Tehran research reactor by next month.
Israel, voicing concerns that Iran could shield its nuclear program from attack by the end of this year, has made comments suggesting it could imminently launch air strikes against its long-time enemy. The US has also not ruled out military action.
However, Ahmadinejad rejected the pressure, saying that, “if the language of bullying and insult is used, the Iranian nation will never yield.”
“The only path is to adhere to justice and the respect of Iran’s [nuclear] rights and to return to the negotiating table,” he added.
Iran has said several times in recent months that it is ready to resume talks on its nuclear program with world powers.
However, up to now it has failed to respond to a letter by EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, formally offering to return to those talks as long as Iran imposes no preconditions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in comments carried by media on Saturday, said his country’s head nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, had written a reply to Ashton that “either has been sent or is on the verge of being sent.”