Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintained Iran's right to nuclear technology Thursday -- the day of a U.N. deadline to roll back on its nuclear program or face sanctions.
"They should know that the Iranian nation will not yield to pressure and will not let its rights be trampled on," Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the northwestern Iranian city of Orumiyeh in a televised speech.
Ahmadinejad said enemies of the country were trying to stir up differences among the Iranian people, but "I tell them: You are wrong. The Iranian nation is united."
CNN's Aneesh Raman said that in front of his keenest supporters in one of his provincial power bases the Iranian president attacked "intimidation" by the U.N. which he said was being led specifically by the United States.
Ahmadinejad criticized a White House rebuff of his offer for a televised debate with President Bush. "They say they support dialogue and the free flow of information. But when debate was proposed, they avoided and opposed it," the Iranian leader said.
The U.N. deadline for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities was due to expire Thursday with Iran showing no signs it intends to comply. No exact time has been set for the deadline.
Also Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to report on Iran's continued nuclear activities.
On Wednesday, Iranian officials again insisted that the Islamic Republic had a right to "peaceful application of nuclear technology."
"Thus far, they haven't given any indication that they are going to meet the just demands of the U.N. Security Council, the IAEA board of governors," said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
"In fact, they've gone off in the other direction. It seems as though they have made it a point to try to defy the international community."
Iran says its enrichment activities are intended for peaceful purposes, but much of the West, including the United States, believes Iran is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.
Thursday's deadline calls for Iran to comply with U.N. Resolution 1696 -- to end its nuclear activities -- or face the possibility of economic sanctions. The five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, also offered a package of incentives for Iran to comply.
Among the incentives are offers to improve Iran's access to the international economy through participation in groups such as the World Trade Organization, and to modernize its telecommunications industry.
The incentives also mention the possibility of lifting restrictions on U.S. and European manufacturers wanting to export civilian aircraft to Iran. And a proposed long-term agreement accompanying the incentives offers a "fresh start in negotiations."
Iran provided a response to the demand last week in which it offered to return to the negotiation table -- but refused to end enrichment.
Gholam Ali Hadaeadel, the speaker of Iran's parliament, said Wednesday that Iran had the right to "peaceful application of nuclear technology and all other officials agree with this decision," according to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.
"Iran opened the door to negotiations for Europe and hopes that the answer which was given to the nuclear package would bring them to the table," he said.
On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that "nobody can prevent" his country from pursuing a "peaceful nuclear" program.
In addition to the deadline, Thursday will bring the latest in a series of relatively pessimistic reports from IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei.
Sources with knowledge of the report say it will indicate that Iran has continued to move ahead with its nuclear program but may be having technical problems.
McCormack and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said they expected action to impose sanctions to begin immediately after the deadline passes, with meetings of high-level officials in the coming days followed by negotiations on the language of the sanctions resolution.
Bolton said that when the deadline passed "a little flag will go up."
"In terms of what happens afterward, at that point, if they have not suspended all uranium enrichment activities, they will not be in compliance with the resolution," he said. "And at that point, the steps that the foreign ministers have agreed upon previously ... we would begin to talk about how to implement those steps."
Bolton said a meeting of foreign ministers on the issue would likely follow in mid-September "when the General Assembly convenes" but stressed discussions would be in progress "well before that."
McCormack said that Iran would still have time to comply with the resolution even after the deadline passes -- but not much.
"One thing about the deadline -- what it is, it's a trigger for the Security Council to begin discussions about sanctions resolutions," he said. "It doesn't mean that Iran can't come to the P5 plus one and say, 'We are going to meet the conditions of Security Council Resolution 1696. We are going to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing-related activities.'
"And if that is in fact confirmed and verified, then there can be negotiations."
Iran has been under IAEA investigation since 2003, with inspectors turning up evidence of clandestine plutonium experiments, black market centrifuge purchases and military links to what Iran says is a civilian nuclear program.