Iran will not back down on its nuclear program despite the problems caused by Western sanctions, including a dramatic slide in the value of its currency, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.
“We are not a people to retreat on the nuclear issue,” he told a news conference in Tehran.
“If somebody thinks they can pressure Iran, they are certainly wrong and they must correct their behavior,” he said.
Ahmadinejad’s comments came amid an accelerated slide in Iran’s currency, the rial, which slipped another four percent on Tuesday to close at 36,100 to the dollar, according to exchange tracking websites.
On Saturday, the rial fell six percent to a new low of around 28,600 to the dollar.
Earlier, Ahmadinejad denied news reports that international sanctions are crippling his country’s economy, claiming Iran has actually been coping with the economic sanctions and that the impact from diminishing oil earnings is being softened by the central banks supplying hard currency to finance imports.
Ahmadinejad said the West is waging a “psychological war,” adding, “Enemies have managed to reduce our oil sales, but hopefully we will compensate for this.”
But the U.S. Treasury, which is monitoring the sanctions, believes Iran’s foreign earnings have been cut by $5 billion a month under the Western economic measures.
“These are the most punishing sanctions we have ever been able to amass as an international community and they are very important for trying to get Iran’s attention on the important denuclearization work,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was quoted by AFP as having said in Washington.
AFP reported that Ahmadinejad also backtracked on hints he had made during a visit to New York last week to attend a UN General Assembly that Iran could consider direct negotiations with the United States on the nuclear issue.
“Direct negotiation is possible, but needs conditions, and I do not think the conditions are there for talks. Dialogue should be based on fairness and mutual respect,” he said, according to the report.
He also said, “I think that this situation cannot last in the relations between Iran and the United States.”
On the prospect of a military conflict breaking out over the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad reaffirmed that he was “not very concerned” about persistent threats from Israel.
“Iran is not a country to be shaken by, let’s say, a few firecrackers,” he said.
Meanwhile, classified Pentagon intelligence papers reveal that in 2008 the Iranians were so fearful of an Israeli attack that they mistakenly fired at their own airliners – civilian as well as military.
“Iranian air defense units have taken inappropriate actions dozens of times, including firing antiaircraft artillery and scrambling aircraft against unidentified or misidentified targets,” the Pentagon report stated.
At the time, Iranian air defense units were in a state of panic and tried to account for any kind of attack from Israel, fearing a military aircraft from Israel might try to mimic a civilian airliner.
During the time period in question there was much discussion of a military response to Iran’s nuclear program, both from Israel and the United States. Israel had bombed a nuclear reactor that was under construction in Syria in September 2007. The following year Israel held a major military air drill over the Mediterranean that Iran took as a serious threat of a potential attack.
It was after this exercise that the Iranian military started training for a possible attack. Less than two weeks after the drill, according to a 2008 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, fighter units were ordered to “conduct daily air-to-ground attack training (GAT) at firing ranges resembling the Israeli city of Haifa and the Israeli nuclear facility at Dimona.”