Supreme Leader of Iran Rejects Direct Talks With U.S.

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TEHRAN -- Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected any idea of bilateral talks with the United States on Thursday in a speech in which he scoffed at Iranian officials who might consider such negotiations.

A staunch ideologue who has often rejected dialogue with America, Ayatollah Khamenei was apparently responding to a United States offer of one-on-one negotiations between the two countries on a range of topics, including Iran's disputed nuclear program, a suggestion that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reinforced last week during a security conference in Munich. The Iranian foreign minister said then he was open to such talks, although Mr. Biden noted that they could proceed only if the ayatollah showed serious interest.

The ayatollah's objection is an edict to which other Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must adhere, and it comes after several high-ranking Iranian officials, including Mr. Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, had said the Obama administration had been taking positive steps toward Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei was straightforward in his speech on Thursday before air force commanders in his Tehran office, which was reported on his personal Web site.

He said that while some "simple-minded people" might be happy about the prospect of bilateral talks, Iran had seen nothing from Washington other than the same conspiracies.

"The Iranian nation will not negotiate under pressure," he said. Noting the international sanctions against Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei said: "The U.S. is pointing a gun at Iran and wants us to talk to them. The Iranian nation will not be intimidated by these actions."

"Direct talks will not solve any problems," he added.

His remarks came after new restrictions were imposed on payments for Iranian oil on Wednesday, a move that increased economic pressure on Iran, and as Iranian and Western officials said Iran had agreed to resume multilateral nuclear talks with world powers this month in Kazakhstan. The ayatollah's rejection of talks with the United States will not affect the Kazakhstan talks, set to begin Feb. 26.

He said the United States was desperate for talks because its policy in the Middle East had failed. "They need to draw a trump card," he said. "Their trump card is urging Iran to sit at the negotiating table."

"I'm not a diplomat, I'm a revolutionary, and speak frankly and directly," he said. "If anyone wants the return of U.S. dominance here, people will grab his throat."

His speech was a reaction to continuing United States sanctions against Iran, people close to him said.

"There is no room for any optimism," said Hamid Reza Taraghi, an influential politician. Pointing to the new sanctions, decisions by American courts to seize Iranian assets and the support for the opposition in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is Iran's last regional ally, he said, "We haven't seen anything good from the U.S."

Iran experts outside the country said they were not surprised that Ayatollah Khamenei had ruled out dialogue with the United States, given his longstanding antipathy toward the Americans. But some said his unyielding stance was not necessarily working in Iran's best long-term interests as the cumulative economic effects of the sanctions grow more corrosive.

"This is expected from Khamenei, his ideological view of the United States is getting in the way," said Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the Washington offices of the RAND Corporation. "Khamenei may be reluctant to negotiate -- perhaps he does not want to from a weak position -- but his hand is going to get weaker as time goes by."

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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