By Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's president said on Wednesday his country would not surrender to pressure as world powers prepared to put the finishing touches to new United Nations sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.
His tough language was echoed by another senior official, who said mastering the nuclear fuel cycle was a "red line" from which the Islamic Republic would never retreat.
Iran is embroiled in a dispute over its nuclear work, which the West suspects is a cover for plans to make atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution, but has not ruled out military action.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are considering toughening sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used to fuel bombs or civilian nuclear power stations.
"If you think ... you can make the Iranian nation surrender, you are wrong," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech at a rally in central Iran, broadcast live on state television.
The crowd chanted: "Nuclear energy is our obvious right."
No date has been set for a vote on the proposed new sanctions, but envoys at the U.N. Security Council hope it can take place at the weekend. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said during a Middle East tour "a U.N. resolution on Iran is very likely by the end of next week"IRAN'S "RED LINE"
The new resolution would follow one adopted in December that imposed trade sanctions on sensitive nuclear materials and technology, and froze assets of key Iranian individuals, groups and businesses.
It is expected to include an embargo on Iran's conventional arms exports, a ban on new commitments for government loans and an expanded asset freeze list, U.N. diplomats said.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, insists it only wants to generate electricity.
"The fuel cycle is Iran's red line on the nuclear issue ... Iran will never retreat from this red line," said Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Asked if Iran would respond militarily to any U.S. strikes, chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani separately told IRNA: "Naturally a military action will have a military response."
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, however, reiterated Iran wanted a diplomatic solution. Iran could boost cooperation with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog if current sanctions proceedings at the Security Council were dropped.
"We do believe within three, four weeks we can reach some comprehensive solution," he said during a visit to Slovenia.That was unlikely to satisfy Western powers demanding Iran suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition for broader negotiations which they say could lead to major trade and diplomatic benefits for the country.
(Additional reporting by Mark John in Damascus and by Marja Novak in Ljubljana)