TEHRAN -- Iran will pursue its nuclear path, the country's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said, speaking just before a deadline set by world powers in a nuclear dispute.
Western powers gave Iran two week from July 19 to respond to their offer to hold off on imposing more UN sanctions on Iran if Tehran would freeze any expansion of its nuclear work.
That would suggest a deadline of August 2, although Russia, one of the six powers facing Iran, has opposed a deadline while also telling Iran not to drag its feet.
Khamenei, quoted by state radio, said, "They [the West] know that the Iranian nation is after using nuclear energy to provide electricity, but they say because this work gives you capability, we will not allow it."
The West accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear warheads under cover of a civilian power program. Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, 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," Khamenei said.
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.