What is motivating Iran’s tough talk of enriching uranium and shutting down a major global oil chokepoint?
|Ahmadinejad, right, ended his visit to Latin America on Friday by visiting his Ecuador counterpart, Correa [Reuters]|
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has wrapped up his Latin American tour in Ecuador, pledging to stand up to growing international pressure over his country’s nuclear programme and threatening to “respond” to attacks.
The Iranian president’s trip took place as tensions rise further in the wake of new US sanctions intended to inflict economic damage in the hope of forcing Iran to drop its nuclear programme.
“Embargoes and sanctions against Iran have had no effect,” Ahmadinejad said in an interview in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday at the end of a four-nation tour that also took in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba..
“Naturally, if the United States wants to disturb, damage and strike the Iranian people, the Iranian people also stand very strong. It will respond firmly.”
Ahmadinejad left Ecuador to return home after his five-day tour of the region, which was seen as an attempt to side-step growing international tensions and find new markets as the EU considers an outright embargo on Iranian oil.
Over the course of his trip, Ahmadinejad repeatedly denied suspicion that Iran aims to make a nuclear weapon, a growing concern in the international community after Iran opened a second uranium enrichment site.
“The nuclear question is a political excuse. All of them know well that Iran isn’t looking to build nuclear bombs,” Ahmadinejad said.
His stance is being backed by Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, who says US allegations of a nuclear weapons programme are based on flimsy sources.
“How can those reports be accepted? Isn’t it the same thing that happened with Iraq which caused an invasion that
cost over a million lives. Also later the conclusion was reached that they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction.
How could we possible not learn from history and such a recent painful history?” Correa said.
The US imposed a new round of sanctions on Thursday on firms in China, Singapore and the UAE for doing business with Iran.
The timing of the move heightened the all-out global push by the US and the European Union to convince Iran to stop enriching uranium and start co-operating with the IAEA.
Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary, has been in China and Japan this week to push for more pressure.
Japan has agreed to decrease Iranian crude oil imports in stages, but China was more sceptical.
The European Union is to consider an outright embargo on Iranian oil on January 23.
Iran has retaliated to the growing pressure with threats to block oil transport through the Strait of Hormuz, which carries a large part of Middle East oil to the rest of the world.
Tensions grew even more when an Iranian scientist connected to the nuclear programme was killed on Wednesday in a car bomb explosion in Tehran, the third scientist to have been killed since 2010.
Iran claimed that Israel and the US were behind the killing. The US has denied complicity.
Ahmadinejad met Raul Castro, the Cuban president, and his brother, Fidel, on Wednesday.
He attended on Tuesday the inauguration of Daniel Ortega for a further four-year mandate as Nicaraguan president. The previous day Ahmadinejad held talks with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.