Iran calls U.S. turnaround victory for nuclear program

TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the dramatic U.S. turnaround in a new intelligence review a victory for Iran’s nuclear program yesterday, 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 yesterday 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.”