TEHRAN — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, voiced support on Saturday for his country’s nuclear deal with world powers while emphasizing that it did not signal an end to Iran’s hostility toward the United States and its allies, especially Israel.
“Their actions in the region are 180 degrees different from ours,” he said.
Speaking after a special prayer marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Mr. Khamenei portrayed the nuclear agreement as a victory for Iran, not least because it does not require the country to completely stop enriching uranium, as some in the West had wanted. The speech appeared to remove a main obstacle to formal approval of the agreement in Iran.
“After 12 years of struggling with the Islamic republic, the result is that they have to bear the turning of thousands of centrifuges in the country,” Mr. Khamenei said, referring to the United States and its five negotiating partners.
Though analysts said his positive portrayal of the agreement would probably quiet hard-line critics in Iran, it also seemed likely to become fodder for critics in the United States, complicating President Obama’s efforts to sell the deal to Congress and the American people.
“I think we all understand the caliber of people we are dealing with, and it adds to the bipartisan skepticism regarding the agreement,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Saturday.
The agreement, which in its final form runs to 159 pages, was reached on Tuesday after 20 months of negotiations between Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States. It is intended to significantly limit Tehran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons for more than a decade in return for lifting international sanctions.
Mr. Obama has made the agreement a benchmark of his presidency. It is opposed by Republicans and by Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of the United States’ most significant allies in the region. They have denounced it as a diplomatic mistake that will strengthen the economic and military power of a nation that threatens its neighbors, engages in and supports hostage-taking and terrorism, and is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Mr. Obama has insisted that the agreement is “not built on trust — it is built on verification.” Mr. Khamenei portrayed it as an acceptance by the West of Iran’s commitment to go ahead with a nuclear program, which its leaders have insisted is solely for peaceful purposes.
Like most of his remarks, the speech attempted a delicate balance between appeasing anti-Western hard-liners and those longing for change in Iran, with rhetoric that could be interpreted favorably on either side.
The speech stopped short of a flat-out endorsement of the agreement. But Mr. Khamenei did not include any specific criticism of the deal or its terms, and analysts said that would probably speed its acceptance by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Parliament.
At the same time, Mr. Khamenei made clear that a single agreement did not mean Iran’s overall relationship with the United States would change, and he promised to continue Iran’s support for allies in the region, including President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement. He praised Iran’s annual anti-Israel rally, known as Quds Day.
Under the nuclear agreement, Iran must give up large parts of its nuclear program, including two-thirds of its uranium-enrichment centrifuges, and it must accept intrusive inspections, even of military sites. Iran’s leaders say that what matters is Western acceptance that Iran will continue to have a nuclear program, and that when the agreement ends in 2025 Iran will be able to enrich uranium and plutonium without limits.
A draft resolution canceling sanctions against Iran and formalizing the steps that Iran is expected to take is to be presented at the United Nations Security Council on Monday. The five permanent members of the Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran along with Germany.
Several leading members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have urged President Obama not to submit the agreement to the Security Council until Congress has first voted its approval or disapproval.
Critics say that by restoring Iran’s potential access to around $100 billion in frozen funds around the world, the agreement will free the country to finance an expanded campaign of aggression in the Middle East. Iranian hard-liners have complained that it will reduce the nuclear program to just a symbol, not an industrial effort. Many hard-liners also fear that it will end Iran’s enmity toward America.
Mr. Khamenei nodded to the complaints, accusing the West of trying to “remove all of the nuts and bolts of Iran’s nuclear industry.” And he made clear that any notions that relations with the United States would now thaw and that the two countries could cooperate on other matters were “dreams” that will not become a reality.
“We do not negotiate with the U.S. about different global and regional issues,” Mr. Khamenei said. “We do not negotiate about bilateral issues. Sometimes, in some exceptional cases, like the nuclear case, and due to the expediency, we may negotiate.”
He also seized on remarks by Mr. Obama at a news conference on Thursday, when the president acknowledged that the United States had made mistakes in its Iran policies in the past, including organizing a coup in 1953 and supporting President Saddam Hussein of Iraq in his war with Iran between 1980 and 1988.
“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Mr. Khamenei said.
“I am telling you,” the ayatollah said, referring to the United States, “you are making a mistake now — in different parts of this region, but especially about the Iranian nation.” He did not offer specifics. “Wake up,” he said. “Stop making mistakes. Understand the reality.”
Analysts said Mr. Khamenei’s remarks would probably quiet critics in Iran.
“He has stopped insisting on red lines and other restrictions; he also avoided any details of the agreement,” said Nader Karimi Joni, an Iranian journalist who favors the nuclear deal. “He supports the deal, and agrees with its contents.”
Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst who is close to the government, said the speech “cooled down hard-liners, who had been preparing to openly oppose the deal.”
Mr. Khamenei stressed that Iran would go on backing its friends in the region, come what may. “We will always support the oppressed Palestinian nation, Yemen, Syrian government and people, Iraq, and oppressed Bahraini people, and also the honest fighters of Lebanon and Palestine,” he said.
American support for Israel will remain a roadblock to relations, he signaled. Noting that Washington regards Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon, as a terrorist organization, Mr. Khamenei asked how “Americans can support the child-killing Zionist government, and call Hezbollah terrorist? How can one interact, negotiate, or come to an agreement with such a policy?”
Worshipers began chanting and pumping their fists when he said the slogans “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” would continue to be heard in the streets of Iran.
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(via NY Times)