(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Tens of thousands of flag-waving Iranians converged on Azadi Square on Sunday to voice support for Iran's bid for nuclear energy, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to press forward with the country's uranium-enrichment program.
``When we suspend our activities, they will never let us resume them,'' the president told a crowd of cheering, chanting supporters who alternately sang patriotic anthems and burned Uncle Sam-hatted effigies of President Bush.
In his hourlong speech on the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, when crowds each year assemble to commemorate the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, it was expected that Ahmadinejad would announce progress on Iran's uranium-enrichment program, reports Trend.
But while Iran is said to be in the beginning stages of installing industrial-scale uranium-enrichment centrifuges at an underground site at Natanz, Ahmadinejad disclosed no advancements Sunday. Western nonproliferation specialists say the start-up has been hindered by technical problems, including difficulties operating the above-ground test centrifuges.
Iran has hinted that it may try to set up much more advanced centrifuges than those being installed at Natanz, but there was no announcement of that. Ahmadinejad hinted that reports of new technological gains of an unspecified nature would come before April 9.
Iranian officials have asserted a right to develop a civilian nuclear-power program, but the United States and other leading Western nations believe Iran is working on constructing a nuclear weapon.
For all the flag waving, fist clenching and chants of ``Death to America,'' the crowd seemed somewhat subdued, as did the president. Hundreds wandered off in the middle of Ahmadinejad's speech, and the subtext to the president's address was that Iran intends to cooperate and is prepared for talks if the United States does not unilaterally set the terms.
``Why are your nuclear sites operating 24 hours a day, and we have to stop ours? We are ready to negotiate, but in a fair atmosphere,'' the president said. ``Why do we have to suspend (enrichment) before negotiations?''
He said Iran was committed to continuing full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, including access by IAEA inspectors to Iran's nuclear sites.
In Munich, Germany, chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani struck a similarly conciliatory tone, asserting that Iran is prepared to settle all outstanding issues with the IAEA over the next three weeks.
``Today we announce to you that the political will of Iran is aimed at the negotiated settlement of the case, and we don't want to aggravate the situation in our region,'' Larijani told a gathering of the world's top security officials.
He added that Iran is seeking harmonious relations with its neighbors in the Middle East.
``That Iran is willing to threaten Israel is wrong,'' Larijani said. ``We pose no threat, and if we are conducting nuclear research and development, we are no threat to Israel. We have no intention of aggression against any country.''
Streets on several sides of Azadi Square throughout Sunday morning were turned into rivers of people making their way toward the anniversary rally, most of them bused in by the government from government offices, factories and schools. But some came on their own, a few stopping to buy inflated Spider-Man and Barbie balloons along the way.
``Please tell Mr. Bush: stay in your place, because you cannot do anything against this nation. If he tries to harm us, he will regret it,'' said Fatimeh Youssefi, who came with her granddaughter. ``We will defend our country to the day we are dead as martyrs.''
``It's our duty to come here for our country and our revolution, and to say that nuclear energy is our right,'' said Mehdi Besharati, a 49-year-old government employee. ``Why is it that the other countries can have nuclear energy but we can't?''
Ahmadinejad used the occasion to warn the United States about its continued presence in Iraq, although he did not address U.S. claims that Shiite-run Iran is aiding Shiite militias in its neighboring state.
``The security of Iraq is our security. If there is no safety in Iraq, it means there is no safety in the entire neighborhood,'' he said.