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Ahmadinejad denied Iranian involvement in plotting attacks on Israelis abroad, despite arrests and accusations by police in various countries. He also vehemently disputed the U.S. claim that Iranian agents played a role in a foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States last year.
Ahmadinejad will leave office next June after serving two four-year terms. He threw out numbers and statistics during the interview to show that Iran’s economy and the lives of average Iranians have improved under his watch. Since his 2005 election, he claimed, Iran went from being the world’s 22nd-largest economy to the 17th-largest; non-petroleum related exports increased sevenfold; and the basic production of goods has doubled. Median income increased by $4,000, he said.
"Today’s conditions in Iran are completely different to where they were seven years ago in the economy, in technical achievement, in scientific know-how," Ahmadinejad said. "All of these achievements, though, have been reached under conditions in which we were brought under heavy sanctions."
Iran has called for the U.S. and its European allies to ease the sanctions that have hit its critical oil exports and left it blackballed from key international banking networks.
It was not possible to immediately verify most of Ahmadinejad’s figures and claims. The CIA’s World Factbook says Iran was the world’s 18th largest economy last year, as measured by its gross domestic product. It said Iran’s "GDP growth remains stagnant" and that the country "continues to suffer from double-digit unemployment and underemployment."
But the Factbook credited Ahmadinejad with spearheading a law to reduce state subsidies that drained the budget and mostly benefited Iran’s upper and middle classes.
On other matters, Ahmadinejad said he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, a private investigator and former FBI agent who vanished in Iran five years ago. He said he directed Iranian intelligence services two years ago to work with their counterparts in the U.S. to locate him.
"And if any help there is that I can bring to bear, I would be happy to do so," he said.
He also claimed never to have heard of Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who is imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran. Hekmati was arrested while visiting his grandmothers in Iran in August 2011, and his family has been using Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York to plead for his release.
In spite of Ahmadinejad’s assertions on the importance of dialogue and respect for others, he has presented a hard line in many areas in this week’s media appearances.
He refuses to speak of the state of Israel by name and instead refers only to the "Zionists." And when asked on Monday about author Salman Rushdie, he made no attempt to distance himself from recent renewed threats on the author’s life emanating from an Iranian semi-official religious foundation.
"If he is in the U.S.," said the president of Iran, "you should not broadcast it for his own safety."
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