Ahmadinejad slams past nuclear freeze

Ahead of elections, incumbent says Khatami's agreeing to halt program in 2003 was "disgraceful."

Ahmadinejad hand on eyes 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad hand on eyes 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iran's hard-line president criticized as "disgraceful" a 2003 deal his predecessor reached with Europe to freeze the country's nuclear program, saying his own decision to stand up to the West restored Iran's dignity. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been touting Iran's nuclear achievements ahead of the June presidential election, hoping to offset criticism from his opponents that he has spent too much time slamming the West and not enough focused on the country's faltering economy. The administration of former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who favors improving ties with the West, struck a deal with Britain, France and Germany in October 2003 to suspend Iran's uranium enrichment program and give the UN nuclear watchdog unrestricted access to the country's nuclear facilities. The deal, which was signed at Sa'adabad Palace in Teheran, was aimed at easing Western fears that Iran was seeking to build nuclear weapons - a charge Teheran has denied. Uranium enrichment can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a bomb. "Enemies have designed colonial policies. When they drew up the disgraceful agreement in their Sa'adabad meeting, they considered the Iranian nation finished," Ahmadinejad was quoted by his Web site as telling a group of Iranians on Wednesday in Semnan, 200 kilometers east of Teheran. Iran tested a new missile in Semnan on Wednesday capable of striking Israel, US Mideast bases and parts of Europe, a launch that also burnished Ahmadinejad's hard-line reputation ahead of the June 12 election. Khatami actually reversed the nuclear freeze and resumed uranium reprocessing activities in August 2005, shortly before Ahmadinejad took office. He acted in response to international demands to permanently halt Iran's nuclear program. But Iran first began enriching uranium under Ahmadinejad's leadership in Feb. 2006 and produced nuclear fuel for the first time in April of that year. Ahmadinejad said his resistance to caving in to pressure from the international community led to Iran mastering the enrichment process. "They assumed that the Iranian nation would retreat and give up if they frowned," said Ahmadinejad. He said Iran's nuclear abilities prevented the US from invading the country after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iranian president defended his speech at a UN conference in Geneva last month when he called Israel the "most cruel and repressive racist regime." The provocative comment prompted a walkout by EU representatives, but Ahmadinejad said the act did not isolate Iran. "We all witnessed that they (the Europeans) were isolated and placed their tails on their shoulders and left the place, but other nations supported Iran," said Ahmadinejad, using the Iranian version of a common English expression. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading challenger to Ahmadinejad in the upcoming election, has criticized the president for the incident, saying it undermined "the dignity of Iran and Iranians." Mahdi Karroubi, another reformist challenger, has criticized Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, saying it has served Israel's interests and pushed Iran deeper into international isolation. Ahmadinejad's reformist opponents in the June election have also said Ahmadinejad's defiance has had an economic cost. The UN Security Council has passed three rounds of financial sanctions against Iran for its failure to suspend enrichment. Ahmadinejad has called the UN resolutions "worthless" and "torn bits of paper." He repeated that line of criticism Wednesday, saying "You can issue as many resolutions as you can until your resolution supply is torn up." The Obama administration has stepped up diplomatic efforts to convince Iran to change its behavior but has received a mixed response from Ahmadinejad.