BEIRUT

Middle East

Khamenei touts flexibility ahead of nuclear talks

File - Iran's new President Hasan Rowhani in his office in Tehran. (AFP PHOTO/HO/KHAMENEI.IR)

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that flexibility was sometimes necessary in diplomacy as his negotiators prepared for new talks on his government’s controversial nuclear drive.

Khamenei’s comments, reported by state television, came after Iran’s moderate new President Hassan Rouhani said he would show flexibility in renewed talks with the major powers.

“Heroic flexibility is very useful and necessary sometimes but with adherence to one main condition,” Khamenei told Revolutionary Guard members.

“A wrestler sometimes shows flexibility for technical reasons. But he does not forget about his opponent nor about his main objective,” Khamenei said.

On Sept. 11, Rouhani said he had the tacit support of Khamenei for “flexibility” in talks with six major powers that are to resume in the coming weeks.

Rouhani has said he wants to allay Western fears but he would not waive Iran’s goal of a civil nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to fly to New York Tuesday to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

On the sidelines, he was set to meet the European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, who represents the powers in the decadelong talks.

Rouhani has vowed to take a more constructive approach to the talks than his hard-line predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a bid to win a relaxation of crippling Western sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

His approach drew a cautious welcome from Western governments that long suspected that Iran’s nuclear program is cover for a drive for weapons capability, an ambition Tehran always denied.U.S. President Barack Obama has refused to rule out military action to prevent Iran developing a weapons capability, a position echoed by regional ally Israel.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham Tuesday strongly criticized Obama’s position.

“It is a source of regret that he still uses the language of threat after we told them to replace it with one of respect,” Afkham told reporters.

In an earlier statement, she said it was “unjustifiable” that the White House should “violate international rules and the U.N. charter to cater to the interests of lobbies by resorting to the military option.”

“The Obama government must understand that the use of the language of threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran will not have the slightest effect on the determination of the government and the nation to defend their absolute nuclear rights, particularly on enriching uranium,” she added.

In an ABC interview Sunday, Obama also revealed that he and his Iranian counterpart had exchanged letters.

Afkham confirmed Tuesday the exchange, a rare contact between leaders of two nations that disagree over Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian war and other issues.

“This letter has been exchanged,” Afkham said. “The mechanism for exchanging these letters is through current diplomatic channels.”

Though rare, it is not the first time letters. Ahmadinejad, wrote a letter to Obama three years ago, and Obama wrote to Khamenei twice, in 2009 and 2012.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Tuesday that halting Iran’s nuclear program would be the focus of his trip to the U.S. later this month. Netanyahu is expected to meet President Barack Obama on Sept. 30 and deliver an address to the U.N. General Assembly.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 18, 2013, on page 1.

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