Iran oil development fund could reach $55 billion: Ahmedinejad
By Marcus George
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday the country's sovereign wealth fund could reach $55 billion by March next year if oil prices kept high, in an apparent bid to defend his economic record in the face of increasing isolation.
Washington and the European Union have stepped up sanctions on the Islamic Republic, alarmed by its disputed nuclear program.
Iran earned up to $100 billion in oil revenue last year but an EU embargo set to come into force in July could put a major dent in future income.
The president has also faced criticism inside Iran for his handling of the economy, particularly over his withdrawal of generous food and energy subsidies in favor of cash handouts - a move that critics say has fuelled inflation and increased hardship.
Iran's National Development Fund - which is currently valued at around $35 billion - was set up by Ahmadinejad's government last year to collect some of the proceeds from the country's oil and gas industries for the benefit of future generations.
A minimum of 20 percent of its reserves is supposed to be invested abroad.
"Taking into the account the upward movement of oil prices, Iran's National Development Fund could reach 55 billion by the end of the (Persian) year (March 2013)," The Iranian state news agency quoted the president as saying during a visit to north-eastern Iran.
"For the first time in history ... (the) government has been able to save a proportion of its oil revenues while previous governments spent all revenues every year," Ahmadinejad said. Continued...