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Ahmadinejad defends nuclear program on last leg of Latin America trip

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:29 PM EST, Thu January 12, 2012
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receives the Doctor Honoris Causa degree from Havana's University on January 11, 2012.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receives the Doctor Honoris Causa degree from Havana's University on January 11, 2012.
  • NEW: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "The nuclear question is a political excuse"
  • NEW: "Latin America will no longer be the backyard of the United States," he says
  • Ahmadinejad has visited Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua this week
  • The tour is part of an effort to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties in the region

Quito, Ecuador (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended his country's nuclear program Thursday, criticizing the United States for imposing sanctions.

"The nuclear question is a political excuse. They know that Iran is not looking to make atomic bombs. Iran is not as imprudent as they are," Ahmadinejad said. "We do not believe in making atomic bombs. We believe that goes against human morality."

Speaking to reporters in Quito, Ecuador, after a day of meetings with the South American country's president, Ahmadinejad said the two leaders had solidified a number of deals and planned to continue their collaboration. But neither he nor Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa provided specifics about their plans.

"We have arrived at a agreement that can form a common front to defend the indispensable rights of the people that are threatened," Ahmadinejad said.

Ahmadinejad's Ecuador visit was the last stop on a five-day Latin America tour aimed at shoring up support in the region. He also traveled to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Amanpour: Ahmadinejad's goals for trip

"Here I want to declare very clearly that from now on, Latin America will no longer be the backyard of the United States," Ahmadinejad said Thursday. "The Latin American peoples possess a culture, a civilization, dignity and a good future."

Correa described relations between the two countries as "very healthy" and pledged to redouble efforts to make deals the nations have reached a reality.

"We have a lot to do. We owe it to our people. We have to accelerate and deepen our efforts and deepen our financial and commercial relations for mutual benefit," he said.

The Ecuadorian president -- who has clashed repeatedly with journalists and media in his country -- praised a reporter from Iran's new government-run Spanish-language network, HispanTV.

"Congratulations to HispanTV. I hope it helps the level of journalism in Latin America and the entire world," he said.

The Iranian president's visit has been controversial in Ecuador.

The Quito Chamber of Commerce denounced the visit in an advertisement in the newspaper "Hoy," arguing that few economic benefits had come out of agreements between the two nations.

Ahmadinejad arrived in Ecuador from Cuba, where he called on developing countries to unite against "imperialism and capitalism."

"Why are the Iranian, Cuban and Latin American people punished by the United States?" he said in a speech speech at the University of Havana. "Have we attacked them in some way? Have we asked for more than we are owed? Never, not once. We have only ever wanted justice."

Ahmadinejad did not directly mention a bomb attack that left an Iranian nuclear scientist dead in Tehran Wednesday.

But, he said, "The capitalist system might do damage, sabotage."

CNN's Patrick Oppmann and Luis Carlos Velez contributed to this report.

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