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Khamenei backs nuclear talks but thinks they’ll fail

  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, top center, waves to the crowd prior to his speech, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

DUBAI/TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader vowed to continue nuclear talks resuming with world powers Tuesday despite some reservations, in his strongest sign of support for President Hassan Rouhani’s push to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Iranian negotiators will hold a second round of talks with the United States and five other world powers in Vienna aimed at a definitive settlement of the dispute, which led to global economic sanctions against Iran.

Tuesday’s talks look to build on an earlier interim accord binding Iran to suspend some sensitive parts of its uranium enrichment in return for modest sanctions relief.

“What our officials started will continue. We will not renege. I have no opposition,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran Monday to a group visiting from the northen city of Tabriz. “But I will say again: There is no use ... it will not lead anywhere.”

The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons, a charge Tehran has steadfastly denied, insisting that its nuclear program is peaceful.

The initial deal, reached in Geneva last November, angered Islamic hard-liners who accused the government of selling out to the West by making concessions on a matter of national pride.

Khamenei, whose powers transcend all others in the Islamic Republic, stopped short of endorsing the hard-liners’ charges but warned moderates not to get carried away with talk of better ties with traditional archfoe the United States.

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said a deal was still within reach if the Vienna talks remained focused on the nuclear issue.

“We must find a deal,” Larijani told French daily Le Figaro.

“It’s possible, on the condition that we don’t add other topics to the agenda in Vienna like the question of our ballistic missiles, which the Americans say they want to examine.”

Tehran and Washington haven’t had official ties since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah, and Khamenei has vetoed any initiative for rapprochement.

“Don’t try to dress up America and erase its past record of terror, violence and ugliness,” Tasnim news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “The nuclear issue is just a hype. American officials are already raising other issues like human rights and missile threat.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who leads the Iranian delegation at the negotiations, told Iran’s official news agency IRNA before leaving for Vienna that “the path will continue and will bear results, even without U.S. support. If it doesn’t succeed, everything will revert to the old ways.”

“Under the present circumstances, talks with America are solely on the nuclear matter, but we have no fear about addressing other issues,” he said, referring to bilateral ties with Washington.

Zarif, who has been singled out for attacks by hard-liners, said he had full mandate to pursue negotiations with the five nuclear powers United States, Russia, China, France and Britain plus Germany according to guidelines set by the leader.

Analysts saw Khamenei’s remarks as a warning to Washington.

“Ayatollah Khamenei wanted to emphasize that Iran will continue the negotiations based on the logic of a win-win situation,” Amir Mohebian, an analyst close to Iran’s conservative camp, said.

“It can be stopped if this logic is not respected, and the Americans will be held accountable for it.”

Alireza Nader, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, a U.S.-based think tank, said Khamenei’s support for the negotiations was rooted in his desire to ease the crippling sanctions.

“Khamenei is genuinely skeptical of the talks, and is very distrustful of the U.S.,” he told AFP.

“I see the statement as him hedging his bets. He’ll support negotiations, but if they fail he can blame someone else, whether the U.S. or Rouhani.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

Iran's supreme leader vowed to continue nuclear talks resuming with world powers Tuesday despite some reservations, in his strongest sign of support for President Hassan Rouhani's push to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Iranian negotiators will hold a second round of talks with the United States and five other world powers in Vienna aimed at a definitive settlement of the dispute, which led to global economic sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons, a charge Tehran has steadfastly denied, insisting that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Khamenei, whose powers transcend all others in the Islamic Republic, stopped short of endorsing the hard-liners' charges but warned moderates not to get carried away with talk of better ties with traditional archfoe the United States.


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