But in an attempt to underline the peaceful nature of the programme, he also insisted that Iran had no intention of conducting any nuclear activities outside the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
In a speech delivered before an immense, swirling crowd at Tehran’s Azadi Square, Mr. Ahmadinejad noted that the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament, had authorised his Government to downgrade relations with the IAEA following the imposition of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
"But we have not used this authority because we want to defend the rights of the nation according to the rules of the Agency," he said.
Under the terms of the UNSC resolution 1737, adopted last December, Iran must suspend all nuclear fuel cycle activities by February 21 or face the prospect of tough sanctions.
``We need nuclear fuel’’
Mr. Ahmadinejad said Iran had to be prepared for the day its oil and gas would run out. "So like other countries, we need the nuclear fuel cycle. [The U.S. and its allies] want it in their hands so that they can oppress others, which is why they are threatening us." Sanctions "do nothing" to Iran, so "now they are threatening a war they don’t have the ability to wage."
Though the President dwelt at length on the nuclear issue, his address provided no hint of the "good news" he had promised to deliver on this day.
He said Iran’s nuclear scientists would continue their work in Isfahan and Natanz, the facilities where enrichment-related work is going on, but refrained from announcing any ramping up of Iran’s fuel cycle operations, such as the installation of more centrifuges.
"In a way, I think Ahmadinejad decided to tone down his rhetoric and say less than what he would like to have said because of domestic developments as well as external pressure," Mohammad Soltanifar, a professor at Tehran University, said.
In recent weeks, ranking conservative clerics such as Hassan Rowhani and Hashemi Rafsanjani have urged the President to be more restrained, said Mr. Soltanifar, who is also attached to the Expediency Council’s Centre for Strategic Research.