Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Thursday that nuclear negotiations with world powers had revealed US “enmity” towards Iran, hours before the resumption of talks between Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, and the EU’s deputy foreign policy chief, Helga Schmid, in Geneva.
Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran “had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with [the United States] to deter its evil,” according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
“The nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims,” Khamenei added.
The timing and content of Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech suggests it is a carefully calibrated gesture aimed at reassuring Iran’s conservatives that it will not bow completely to Western—and particularly US—pressure, while at the same time not endangering the delicate diplomatic talks.
On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Araqchi will also meet with Wendy Sherman, the US State Department’s Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and US envoy in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran.
Thursday’s talks are reportedly aimed at resolving issues that have arisen in expert-level talks between Iran and the six world powers of the P5+1—the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany—in implementing the interim deal reached last November in Geneva.
On Wednesday, it was reported that the two sides had fallen out over the issue of Iran’s development of new, more advanced centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
Under the terms of November’s deal, Iran agreed to suspend the installation of additional centrifuges at its nuclear facilities, as well as suspend some other aspects of its program, for a period of six months.
In return, the members of the P5+1 agreed not to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran and to relax some existing measures.
Removal of sanctions was one of the central pillars of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election campaign in 2013, and remains a foreign policy priority. Rouhani has so far managed to convince Iran’s hardliners, many of whom fiercely oppose any concessions or signs of retreat from a fully fledged nuclear program, not to attempt to block the international negotiations.
Iran’s Supreme Leader has on numerous occasions expressed his scepticism about the “ill intentions” of the West, and the US in particular, stating that the concerns over Iran’s nuclear program are a pretext for further pressure aimed at paralyzing the Islamic Republic.
While Iran insists that it had not entered into negotiations as the result of the unprecedented economic sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, advocates of sanctions in the US and elsewhere argue that have been critical in bringing Iran to the table.
Despite public criticism from some conservatives that the Geneva deal represents an infringement of Iran’s “right” to a peaceful nuclear program under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Ayatollah Khamenei has so far backed Rouhani’s policy of pursuing negotiations, and seems ready to accept a final agreement.
In doing so, he has nonetheless sought to placate powerful domestic conservative forces with rhetorical attacks on the US and assertions of Iran’s determination to resist Western and American pressure.
“Our enemies do not know the great Iranian nation. They think that their imposed sanctions forced Iran to enter negotiations. [They are] wrong,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on Thursday.