Iran’s top authority Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday Tehran should immunise itself against international sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme, keeping up a confrontational stance as talks over the dispute were due to resume.
Western powers, fearing Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb, have imposed penalties that have slashed its oil exports, causing inflation to soar and the value of its currency to plummet. Tehran says its work is purely peaceful.
Iran and six world powers will resume negotiations over the standoff on January 18, the European Union said yesterday.
“What would you do if they set a condition for lifting the sanctions that would compromise your (national) pride?” Supreme Leader Khamenei told a gathering, in comments published on official Irna news agency.
“No official would accept it. Efforts must be made to immunise Iran against the sanctions,” he said, without going into details on how that should be done.
Khamenei has so far backed the talks and the efforts of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani to resolve the dispute.
But he has continued to give speeches larded with denunciations of “enemies” and “the Great Satan” to reassure hardliners for whom anti-US sentiment has always been central to Iran’s Islamic revolution.
Some political and religious conservatives see a nuclear agreement as an infringement of Iranian sovereignty.
“I am not against the nuclear talks ... but we cannot trust an enemy like America that says ... sanctions cannot be lifted altogether and immediately,” Khamenei said.
Iranian officials have acknowledged the sanctions’ bite, but have called for the adoption of a “resistance economy” with greater reliance on domestic producers rather than imports.
The United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China reached a preliminary agreement with Iran in 2013 for it to suspend its sensitive nuclear activity in return for easing some economic sanctions imposed during over 12 years of nuclear dispute.
But the two sides failed for a second time in December to meet a self-imposed deadline for ending the standoff, and extended the preliminary accord by seven months.
Iranian and Western officials have said differences remain over Tehran’s uranium enrichment capacity, how fast economic sanctions should be lifted and other key issues.
Khamenei will have the last word on Iran’s conditions for any final agreement.
Throughout the nuclear talks he has supported Iran’s diplomats while simultaneously using public speeches to express doubt about what, if anything, can be achieved.
His latest comments came one day after Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif, Iran’s top negotiator, was criticised by hardline lawmakers over his handling of the talks, although he was later backed in a snap vote.
Zarif countered by saying the negotiations had changed Iran’s image abroad, reversing the view that Tehran was “threatening and dangerous for world security”.
“Today the world is watching Iran as a powerful and logical actor that cannot be set aside or ignored,” Zarif said.