TEHRAN Iran has no brake and no reverse gear in its nuclear programme, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday, while a deputy foreign minister vowed Tehran was prepared for any eventuality, "even for war".
The tough talk comes ahead of a meeting this week of officials from the U.N. Security Council plus Germany in London to consider possible further steps after limited sanctions were imposed on Tehran in December.
"Iran has obtained the technology to produce nuclear fuel and Iran's move is like a train ... which has no brake and no reverse gear," Ahmadinejad said, ISNA news agency reported.
The United States repeated its call for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a process Washington believes Tehran is seeking to master in order to build atomic bombs.
Iran, which insists its only wants to make fuel to generate electricity, ignored last week's U.N. deadline to stop the work.
"They don't need a reverse gear. They need a stop button," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News. She said her offer to meet Iran's foreign minister or other Iranian representatives still stood if Iran suspended enrichment.
The United States insists it wants a diplomatic solution to the row but has not ruled out military action if that fails.
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said on Saturday Iran's atomic ambitions must be curbed and said "all options" were on the table. Iran says Washington is in no position to attack when its troops are bogged down in Iraq but says it is ready in case.
"We have prepared ourselves for any situation, even for war," Manouchehr Mohammadi, one of the foreign minister's deputies, was quoted by ISNA as saying.
Iranian military commanders have said recent war games, the latest of which involved testing several missiles, show Iran's readiness to counter any attack.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying on a trip to South Africa that Tehran would react "proportionately" to any further pressure and that it wanted more talks.
"Iran is ready to resolve existing differences over its nuclear programme through fruitful and careful negotiations," he said. He urged Security Council members due to meet in London in the coming days not to continue their "hostile behaviour".
U.N. sanctions were slapped on Iran in December, barring the transfer of technology and know-how to the country's nuclear and missile programme. That resolution said further measures could follow if Iran refused to halt enrichment by February 21.
Cheney said during a visit to Australia that it would be a "serious mistake" to allow Iran to become a nuclear power. An Australian newspaper said Cheney also endorsed comments by U.S. Republican Senator John McCain that the only thing worse than a military confrontation with Iran would be a nuclear-armed Iran.
The New Yorker magazine said a Pentagon panel has been created to plan a bombing attack that could be implemented within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from President George W. Bush.
The special planning group was established within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in recent months, according to an unidentified former U.S. intelligence official cited in the article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
In response to the report, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous."
To step up pressure on Tehran, Washington has imposed sanctions on two big Iranian banks and three firms, and has sent a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf.
(Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York and Randall Mikkelsen in Washington)