Iran blames West for ‘artificially’ raising oil prices, says war threat is a ‘joke’

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia | Iran’s president again took aim at the West, blaming the U.S. and Europe for “artificially” raising oil prices and dismissing as “a funny joke” fears that his country could come under attack.

Hours later, on Wednesday, Iranian state television reported that Tehran had test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles during war games. The report quoted officials as saying the tests are in response to U.S. and Israeli threats.

But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a visit to Malaysia, told a news conference Tuesday that the U.S. and Israel were “focusing on propaganda and psychological war.”

“Before, it would be considered as a serious issue,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. But Iranians are so used to the threats that they now treat it as a “very funny show. … These type of wars are considered as a funny joke.”

He added, “I assure you that there won’t be any war in the future.”

The latest developments were in line with the mix of conciliatory and bellicose statements by Iranian officials in recent weeks about the possibility of a clash with the U.S. and Israel, which has been held partly responsible for driving up world oil prices and bringing down the dollar’s value.

Continuing his rail against the West, Ahmadinejad blamed the U.S. and Europe for record-high oil prices. He said the global production of oil is much more than consumption, suggesting that politics rather than economics were behind today’s record-high prices of more than US$140 a barrel.

Ahmadinejad said the high oil prices are the result of a weak dollar and a deliberate decision by the United States and some European countries to profit from high fuel taxes. In some European countries, 70 percent of the fuel cost goes to governments as tax, he said.

“So it is very clear and obvious that the market does not have a role in raising prices. There are some others that are determining the oil price for the benefit of the few, very rich people of the world,” said Ahmadinejad, whose country is the second biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

In his typical combative fashion, the Iranian leader criticized arch foe, the United States, in every answer. He blamed Washington for the world economic crisis and maintaining a nuclear weapons stockpile while opposing Tehran’s nuclear program.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. But Washington believes it is for making nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad also questioned the United States’ permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council, its role in Iraq, and held it responsible for illegal drug production in Afghanistan.

He claimed that the U.S. can also use the “artificially high price of crude oil” as a justification to start politically sensitive exploration in the North Pole.