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Iran Leader Claims Win in Nuke Faceoff

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By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
The Associated Press
Thursday, December 6, 2007; 2:33 AM

TEHRAN, Iran -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called the dramatic U.S. turnaround in a new intelligence review a victory for Iran's nuclear program, suggesting it shows the success of his hard-line stance rejecting compromise.

But his more moderate opponents at home are hoping the assessment's conclusion that Tehran shelved its effort to develop atomic weapons will boost a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear stand-off with the West.

The political rivalry in Tehran could have important implications for what happens next in the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, now that the report has likely weakened two of the threats Washington held over Iran _ more U.N. sanctions and the possibility of military action.

In past months, Ahmadinejad has faced a rising challenge from a more moderate camp centered around his top rival, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani's allies have increasingly criticized Ahmadinejad for his hard-line positions, saying they are creating enemies for Iran in the West. Ahmadinejad has lashed backed, branding his critics "traitors."

The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Wednesday that Iran had been "somewhat vindicated" by the U.S. review, and expressed hopes it would give a push to negotiations.

"I see this report as a window of opportunity," Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency said. "It's a window of opportunity because it gives diplomacy a new chance."

Ahmadinejad touted the assessment as a vindication for his refusal to cave in to the West's demands that Iran suspend uranium enrichment and allow a monitoring program to ensure its nuclear facilities aren't used to produce atomic weapons.

He told a crowd of thousands in the western province of Ilam that the U.S. report was a "declaration of victory for the Iranian nation against the world powers over the nuclear issue."

"Thanks to your resistance, a fatal shot was fired at the dreams of ill-wishers, and the truthfulness of the Iranian nation was once again proved by the ill-wishers themselves," Ahmadinejad said, drawing celebratory whistles from the crowd.

The report concluded Iran halted a nuclear weapons design program in late 2003 and said there was no evidence it had resumed. That was a dramatic change from a 2005 assessment saying Iran was actively trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran denies ever having a weapons program, saying its nuclear work is aimed at using nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

Tehran has pushed ahead with uranium enrichment despite U.N. Security Council demands it suspend the process, which can be used to produce fuel for nuclear reactors but also material for nuclear warheads.


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