Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday dismissed the West's year-end deadline for Iran to accept an enrichment fuel deal aimed at calming international fears about its nuclear program, Reuters reported.
If Iran misses the deadline for agreeing to ship most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad in exchange for fuel for a Tehran research reactor, Washington has made clear it intends to pursue harsher sanctions against Iran in the United Nations.
"Who are they to set us a deadline?" Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in the southern city of Shiraz.
"We set them a deadline that if they do not correct their attitude and behavior and literature we will demand from them the Iranian nation's historic rights," the hardline president told the crowd, without elaborating.
In Washington, U.S. officials said the major powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- conferred by telephone on Tuesday as they debate their next steps.
Iran, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, says its uranium enrichment program is solely aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more gas and oil.
Due to its record of nuclear secrecy, the West believes Iran wants to make atomic bombs.
Enriched uranium can be used both as fuel for nuclear power plants and, if refined much further, provide bomb material.
The U.N.-drafted fuel deal is designed to allay international concern over Iran's nuclear work by shipping most of its LEU abroad, but the Islamic Republic says it will only agree to a fuel swap inside its borders.
It now looks very unlikely that Iran will agree to the deal before the end of the year.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad may not recognize, for whatever reason, the deadline that looms, but that is a very real deadline for the international community," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday.
"The decision for them to live up to their responsibilities is their decision," said Gibbs. "We have offered them a different path. If they decide not to take it, then the (major powers) will move accordingly."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said officials from major powers would talk into the new year and the focus would shift from carrot to stick as the group moves toward putting specific sanctions on the table.
"We'll send a very clear and compelling signal to Iran that there are consequences," he said.
Ahmadinejad dismissed Western allegations about Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying: "You should know that if we had any intention of building a bomb, we would have had enough guts and courage to announce that without any fear from you."