(AP) Iran’s leader backs nuke talks, with conditions
By GEORGE JAHN and JOHN HEILPRIN
Ahead of a new round of Iran nuclear talks, the country’s supreme leader voiced support on Wednesday for the negotiations, but he insisted there are limits to concessions that Iran will make in exchange for an easing of sanctions choking its economy.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave no further details in a speech to a paramilitary group aimed at both placating hardliners and showing his backing for the Iranian officials preparing to meet with international negotiators in Geneva later Wednesday. But his mention of Iran’s “nuclear rights” was widely interpreted as a reference to uranium enrichment.
Western diplomats reported progress a during previous round of talks in Geneva. They now hope to reach an accord that would halt Iran’s nuclear efforts while negotiators pursue a more comprehensive agreement that would ensure that Tehran’s program is solely for civilian purposes. Iran would get some sanctions relief under such a first-step deal, without any easing of the most harsh measures _ those crippling its ability to sell oil, its main revenue maker.
Iran has suggested it could curb its highest-known level of enrichment _ at 20 percent _ in a possible deal that could ease the U.S.-led economic sanctions.
But Iranian leaders have made clear that their country will not consider giving up its ability to make nuclear fuel _ the centerpiece of the talks since the same process used to make reactor stock can be used to make weapons-grade material.
Khamenei said he would not “interfere in the details of the talks,” in a clear nod of support for the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which has opened historic exchanges with the U.S. However, Khamenei also said the main goal is “stabilization of the rights of the Iranian nation, including nuclear rights.”
Khamenei also blasted what he called the U.S. government’s “warmongering” policies, including threats of military action, and he said sanctions cannot force unwanted concessions by Iran. At the same time, Khamenei said that his country has “no animosity”` toward the American people and seeks “friendly” relations.
His complex message reflected Iran’s internal divisions over the nuclear talks and outreach to the United States, which broke ties with Iran after hostage-takers stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran in 1979 the wake of the Islamic Revolution.
President Barack Obama also faces opposition to a deal from Israel, Saudi Arabia and critics in the U.S. Congress, who say an envisaged first-step deal would give Iran too much in the way of sanctions relief for too little in the way of concessions. They argue that Iran can’t be trusted. Obama and his national security team counter that the risk is worth taking because the alternative is war no one wants.
On Wednesday, delegations arrived in Geneva for internal consultations ahead of a full round of talks between Iran and six nations: the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Associated Press writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran and Brian Murphy in Dubai contributed.