Iran Defiant As Deadline Draws Near

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran will pursue its nuclear path, the country's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Wednesday, speaking just before a deadline set by world powers in the nuclear dispute.

Western powers gave Iran two weeks from July 19 to respond to their offer to hold off imposing more UN sanctions on Iran if Tehran would freeze any expansion of its nuclear work. That would suggest a deadline of Saturday, although Russia, one of the six powers facing Iran, has opposed a deadline while also telling Iran not to drag its feet. The West accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear warheads under the cover of a civilian power program. Iran denies the charge.

"The Iranian nation, by depending on its useful experience and advantages of 30 years of resistance, does not pay any attention to such talk and will continue with its path," said Khamenei, who has the final say in state policy.

The freeze idea is aimed at getting preliminary talks started, although formal negotiations on the nuclear, trade and other incentives will not start before Iran suspends uranium enrichment, which has both civilian and military uses.

Iran has rejected suspension in the past and has given no indication so far that it is ready for a freeze.

"One should not spoil negotiations by raising unreasonable conditions, since Iranians are not ready to deviate from their rights by one iota," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said late Tuesday.