TEHRAN, Iran — 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.
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 U.N. nuclear watchdog unrestricted access to the country’s nuclear facilities.
The deal, which was signed at Sa’adabad Palace in Tehran, was aimed at easing Western fears that Iran was seeking to build nuclear weapons — a charge Tehran 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, 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tehran.
Iran tested a new missile in Semnan on Wednesday capable of striking Israel, U.S. 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 international pressure led to Iran mastering the enrichment process. He said Iran’s nuclear abilities prevented the U.S. from invading the country after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the president’s reformist opponents in the June election have said Ahmadinejad’s defiance has had an economic cost as well. The U.N. Security Council has passed three rounds of financial sanctions against Iran for its failure to suspend enrichment.
The Obama administration has stepped up diplomatic efforts to convince Iran to change its behavior but has received a mixed response from Ahmadinejad.
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