Ahmadinejad AFP photo

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a rare acknowledgment on Saturday of the economic challenges his country is facing, The Washington Post reports.

“This was a very difficult year for our economy,” Ahmadinejad said during a live television interview in which he outlined his government’s budget plan for the coming fiscal year. He accused the United States of using its vast economic might to exert unfair pressure on the much smaller Iranian economy.

Iran has been facing punitive economic measures due to its nuclear program. The sanctions have led to a severe economic crisis, choking the Islamic Republic’s banking system and limiting oil exports, its main foreign revenue earner.

A recent report to Congress indicated that Western sanctions on Iran have contributed to a drop in the Islamic Republic's access to global sources of capital last year.

Ahmadinejad had steadfastly denied that the sanctions are hurting the economy, until Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi broke ranks and admitted that the sanctions have sliced oil exports by 45 percent.

The President’s acknowledgement of the economic challenges in Iran comes several days before another round of talks on the country’s nuclear activities.

Discussions with representatives of the United States and five other world powers are set to take place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday.

The so-called P5+1 - the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - have called on Iran to suspend all 20-percent enrichment, shut down the underground nuclear facility in Fordow and export its 20-percent stockpile of enriched uranium.

A Western diplomat said Wednesday that the P5+1 would come to Almaty with an offer containing “significant new elements.”

Reports have said that the powers could ease sanctions on Iran's trade in gold and other precious metals in exchange for its shutting down the Fordow facility. Iran, however, has indicated it would refuse.

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