TEHRAN, Iran --President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, under increasing criticism at home, said yesterday that his nation was becoming a superpower and that the U.N. sanctions would not deter it from pursuing its nuclear program.
"We are rapidly becoming a superpower," Ahmadinejad told reporters after laying flowers on the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution he led.
"Our strength does not come from military weapons or an economic capability," the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying. "Our power comes from our capability to influence the hearts and souls of people, and this scares them [the West].
"That's why they are using psychological warfare and impose sanctions. But the language of sanctions belongs to the past."
He made no reference to contradictory remarks this week by President Jacques Chirac of France about whether it would be acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad spoke as some conservatives in Iran joined moderates in warning that his dismissiveness of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council over Iran's nuclear program could have dangerous consequences.
The Security Council resolution, passed Dec. 23, prohibits trade in goods and technology related to Iran's nuclear program. It is aimed at curbing Iran's uranium enrichment program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes but the United States and some European countries contend is for making nuclear weapons.
The resolution gives Iran two months to halt the program or face tougher sanctions.
Recent criticism of Ahmadinejad has led to speculation that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme religious leader who has the final authority on all state matters, is allowing such comments in a bid to contain him.
Khamenei has made few public appearances since the resolution and, in his only reference to it, said Iran would not give up its right to a nuclear program.
Dozens of moderate politicians and several conservatives gathered last week at the office of Mehdi Karroubi, a longtime politician and a former speaker of Parliament, to discuss their concerns over the future of Iran.
"Those who don't worry are either unaware of what is happening" or showing that they lack wisdom, said Ismail Gerami Moghadam, a member of Parliament who attended the meeting, the independent daily Etemad Melli reported.
The state-run daily Keyhan joined critics of Ahmadinejad last week and said "any threat should be taken seriously." The newspaper, which had repeatedly suggested that Iran withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and proceed with its nuclear program, would be expected to support the president's position.
Yesterday in Vienna, Austria, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, diplomats said Iran had begun installing centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, Agence France-Presse reported. Iran has said it plans to install 3,000 of them at Natanz soon.
Ahmadinejad has promised to make a major announcement about the nuclear program during the 10-day celebration of the anniversary of the revolution that began yesterday.
Analysts here say Iran could be exaggerating in describing the progress of its program.
"We had this experience during the war with Iraq, too, and the military exaggerated its progress when it came to building missiles," said Mohammad Atrianfar, a politician who opposes the president and directs the daily newspaper Shargh, which the government shut down.