x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Ayatollah Khamenei warns against undermining nuclear negotiators in talks with the West

Iran's Supreme Leader appears to direct message at hardliners who have criticised diplomacy over its nuclear programme.

TEHRAN // Iran’s Supreme Leader warned on Sunday against undermining negotiators engaged in talks with the West, a message directed apparently at hardliners who have criticised Iran’s diplomacy over its nuclear programme.

The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were his latest show of support for President Hassan Rouhani’s policy of outreach to the West. They come ahead of a new round of talks scheduled for Thursday in Geneva.

Diplomats “are on a difficult mission and nobody should weaken those who are on assignment,” the official IRNA news agency quoted the ayatollah, who has final say on all matters of state, as telling a group of students.

“Nobody should consider our negotiators as compromise-seekers,” he said. Iranian officials maintain that the country will not concede what it considers to be its fundamental right to nuclear activity.

The ayatollah said the nuclear talks with world five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will be limited to the nuclear issue. Hardliners have also criticised Mr Rouhani for pursuing broader rapprochement, and took particular exception to a short September phone call between him and US President Barack Obama aimed at ending three decades of estrangement between the countries.

Iran’s supreme leader criticised Washington for repeating its threats against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“From one hand, the Americans smile and show interest in talks but on the other hand they immediately say all options are on the table,” he was quoted as saying by state TV.

The West suspects Iran is developing weapons technology. Iran denies it, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment.

In his remarks quoted by state media, the ayatollah reiterated his previous position that he is not optimistic about talks with the US, but added that the talks will not damage Iran.

* Associated Press