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Iranian Leader Defends Economic Policy - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) -Iran’s hardline president on Sunday defended his economic policies from sharp domestic criticism and said U.N. Security Council sanctions would never deter the country from pursuing its nuclear program.

“The (U.N.) resolution was delivered dead. Ten more similar resolutions will not affect our economy and our policy,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state-run television as he delivered a budget for the new year.

“Falsely, they want to imply that we have had costs in this regard,” the president said — an apparent reference to recent news stories in the West that prices of food and other basics have risen in Iran since the U.N. sanctions were imposed in late December.

The U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions to punish Iran for defying a resolution demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material to fuel nuclear reactors or provide fuel for bombs.

The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of trying to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is only for generating electricity.

The sanctions were limited to a ban on selling materials and technology that could be used in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and the freezing of assets of 10 Iranian companies and individuals.

But since then, the price of fruit, vegetables and other widely used commodities in Iran — already rising — have skyrocketed, apparently because of fears of future harsher punishment. Housing prices also have doubled in the last year.

The inflation has hit Iranians hard, along with unemployment, which the government puts at 10 percent but which economists say could be as high as 30 percent. The government also says inflation is around 11 percent, but experts estimate it at 30 percent.

Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. And he has faced increasingly fierce criticism in recent weeks for his failure to meet those promises.

He is being challenged not only by reformers but by the conservatives who paved the way for his victory in 2005 presidential elections. Even conservatives say Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy — and they have become more aggressive in calling him to account.

In presenting his budget for the year that begins March 21, the president defended his domestic and economic policies.

“The government has completely controlled the prices of some food stuffs, such as bread, gas, water and electricity,” he said.

He also said about 4.6 million people had received governmental shares in companies and pledged that would rise to 20 million people in future.

The shares of governmental companies, known as “Justice Shares,” are supposed to be delivered to poor families at a lower price and are designed to share the country’s wealth. More than 1,000 state-controlled companies now hold control of big industries such as the auto industry, cement and transportation.

Ahmadinejad also said that his government has already renovated 5,625 miles of roads and 200,000 houses in rural areas.

Some 150 lawmakers signed a letter last week calling on Ahmadinejad’s government to reconsider its draft budget for next year. Lawmakers called the draft too dependent on oil revenues. Iran makes about 80 percent of its revenues from oil exports.

Ahmadinejad said Sunday the budget bill was prepared to compensate for a possible drop in oil prices, but he gave no specifics.

“We assume enemies want to damage us by decreasing the price of oil,” he told his country in the speech. “So we have reduced dependency on oil revenue.”

On the nuclear issue, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has found no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but it has criticized the country for concealing certain nuclear activities and failing to answer questions about the program.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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