Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Doesn’t Fault Nuclear Deal – THOMAS ERDBRINK/The New York Times
TEHRAN — In his first speech since a nuclear agreement was reached with world powers, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, voiced support for the deal without criticizing any of its terms, providing his version of an endorsement that could remove the most significant obstacles to its domestic approval.
Speaking on Saturday after a special prayer marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Mr. Khamenei portrayed the agreement as a win for 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 the other deal makers.
At the same time, he reiterated criticism of western powers and Israel, and said the agreement did not signal an end to the hostility between them.
“Their actions in the region are 180 degrees different from ours,” Mr. Khamenei said, while also praising the annual anti-Israel rally, known here as al-Quds day, and the slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
But his portrayal of the agreement itself was positive and he expressed no criticism of its specifics. Analysts said his speech will likely silence hardliners and speed up the deal’s acceptance by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and parliament.
The agreement, which in its final form was 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.
President Obama has made the agreement a benchmark of his presidency and has now embarked on a campaign to sell it to the American people and to Congress. The deal is opposed by Republicans, and by Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of the United States’ most significant allies, who have denounced it as a diplomatic mistake that will strengthen the economic and military power of a nation they say has engaged in hostage-taking, terrorism and regional aggression.
Mr. Obama has insisted that the agreement is “not built on trust — it is built on verification.” Mr. Khamenei portrayed it as acceptance of Iran’s commitment to go ahead with a nuclear program, which its leaders have insisted was being pursued solely for peaceful purposes.
Like most of his remarks, the speech attempted a delicate balance between appeasing anti-West hardliners and those longing for change in Iran, with rhetoric that could be interpreted favorably on either side of the domestic divide.
The speech stopped short of a flat-out endorsement of the agreement. At the same time, Mr. Khamenei made clear that a single agreement does not mean Iran’s relationship with the United States will change, and he promised to continue support for regional allies, including President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement.
Under the agreement, Iran is forced to give up large parts of its nuclear program, and accept intrusive inspections, even of military sites. Its number of centrifuges will be cut by two-thirds. Iran’s leaders say that what matters is the western acceptance of its nuclear program and the promise that when the agreement ends in 2025 Iran can enrich uranium and plutonium without limits.
On Monday a resolution cancelling sanctions and formalizing the steps expected of Iran will be presented at the United Nations Security Council. Its permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, reached the deal after direct negotiations with Iran, finalizing it after 18 consecutive days of talks in Vienna.
Critics of the agreement have said it will give Iran potential access to around $100 billion in frozen funds which it can use on what they see as a campaign of expansion in the region.
Iranian hardliners have been complaining that the deal’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program turn it into a symbol rather than an industrial-sized energy producing effort.
Many hardliners also feared that a nuclear deal would be the end of Iran’s hostile stance toward the United States.
Mr. Khamenei nodded to the complaints, accusing the west of trying to “remove all of the nuts and bolts of Iran’s nuclear industry.”
As for the end of hostility with the west, such a thing will never happen, said Mr. Khamenei, making clear that new relations between Iran and the United States, and possibly cooperation on other issues, are “dreams” that will not become a reality.
“We do not negotiate with the U.S. about different global and regional issues. We do not negotiate about bilateral issues. Sometimes, in some exceptional cases, like the nuclear case, and due to the expediency, we may negotiate,” Mr. Khamenei said.
He also seized on remarks by President Obama at a news conference on Thursday, where he acknowledged that the United States had made mistakes in its Iran policies, such as organzing a coup d’ etat in 1953 and supporting the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran between 1980 and 1988.
Mr. Khamenei said of Mr. Obama, “He mentioned two or three points but did not confess to tens of others.”
“I am telling you,” he continued, 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 will quiet critics.
“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 in favor of a nuclear deal. “He supports the deal and agrees with its contents.”
Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the government, said the speech “cooled down hardliners, who had been preparing to openly oppose the deal.”
At the same time, he said, “Even, in the very unlikely event that an American embassy will ever be opened here, the slogans of ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ will not be forgotten.”
Indeed, Mr. Khamenei stressed that – deal or no deal – Iran would never stop supporting its regional allies.
“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.
And the United States’s support for Israel will always remain a roadblock, he signaled. Referring to the United States’s label of Iran’s key ally, Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization, he asked how the “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?”
Worshippers began chanting and pumping their fists as he said the slogans “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” would continue to be heard in the streets of Iran.