Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently tried to defend his economic policies before Iran's parliament. "The government has completely controlled the prices of some food stuffs, such as bread, gas, water and electricity," he said. Mr. Ahmadinejad's remarks were met with skepticism by some of the legislators, who interrupted him by shouting about the exorbitant price of tomatoes.
More than the price of tomatoes is skyrocketing in Iran. The overall inflation rate is now estimated by outside experts to be thirty percent. Rental and housing costs in Tehran have risen dramatically over the past year. Unemployment is reportedly at thirty percent. In a country with the world's second largest oil and gas reserves, gasoline shortages are so acute the government is planning to introduce rationing.
In January, one hundred and fifty members of Iran's parliament signed a letter criticizing Mr. Ahmadinejad's policies. They accused him of squandering Iran's oil revenues. Iran's senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, said in published comments, "We have so much oil and gas, but make useless expenditures and don't think of our own people's problems and the price of basic commodities go higher and higher every day."
In addition, the United States is limiting Iran's access to international financial markets because of concerns over Iran's financing terrorist activity and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Also, several large European banks have curbed their activities in Iran for similar reasons.
President George W. Bush says the government in Tehran is isolating Iran "to the harm of the Iranian people":
The problem, says Mr. Bush, "is with a government that takes actions that end up isolating their people and ends up denying the Iranian people their true place in the world."