updated 10/22/2006 1:34:43 PM ET 2006-10-22T17:34:43

Iran’s president on Sunday opposed encouraging families to have just two children and said his country could cope with 50 million more people than the 70 million it has now, the student news agency ISNA reported.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks to a meeting of the government and parliament run counter to Iran’s long-held policy of controlling population growth, which rocketed during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war when family planning was ignored.

“I am against saying that two children are enough. Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it. (Iran) even has the capacity for 120 million people,” he was quoted as saying.

“Western countries have problems, and since they have a negative population growth, they are worried and scared that if our population grows we may dominate them,” said Ahmadinejad, who regularly rails against the West and vows a return to Islamic revolutionary values.

Birth rates surged after the 1979 Islamic revolution until the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. In 1986, the population growth rate hit 3.2 percent, among the world’s highest.

Alarmed, the government embarked on a family planning program in 1988. Iran’s Health Ministry encouraged contraceptive use and launched a national information campaign.  Growth rates slid to half the 1986 level in following years.

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