Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday rejected US and European efforts to negotiate over the country’s military policies in the region.
“The seditionist US administration which promotes corruption asks why we are present in the region. We are already in the region [our country is located in this region]. Should we take permission from you?” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Khamenei as saying.
American and European officials have sought to engage Tehran in talks over Iranian military deployments and support for militarized proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
“We should have talks with the regional states over our presence in the region. Why should we talk to you?” Khamenei said. “If we ever decide to establish a presence in the US, then yes we need to talk to you.”
Khamenei also slammed similar European efforts. “It is no way related to you. Why are you here [in the region]? Here is our region,” Fars quoted him as saying.
“We, ourselves, hold talks with regional people and governments,” he added.
Khamenei’s comments come three days after a visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Tehran, where the top French diplomat sought talks on curbing Iran’s ballistic missile program in a bid to convince the US to stay in the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.
During his Monday visit, Le Drian told top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, that there was “still a lot of work to do” on Iran’s missile program.
Zarif countered that Europe needed to “play a more constructive role to preserve” the nuclear deal.
“And above all to put pressure on the United States to meet its commitments under the deal and not to allow it to present illogical and illegal demands,” Zarif added, according to an account by the Iranian foreign ministry.
The visit came amid a scramble by European governments to salvage the 2015 deal after US President Donald Trump threatened he would abandon it unless tough new restrictions were placed on Iran before May 12.
“Preserving the nuclear accord will prove to the world that negotiation and diplomacy are the best option for solving problems, while its collapse will signify that political negotiations are a waste of time,” said Rouhani in a statement issued after his meeting with Le Drian.
Le Drian insisted he was not “an emissary of Trump,” but criticized Iran’s missile program and regional interventions.
“There are programs for missiles with ranges of several thousand kilometers which are not in line with UN Security Council resolutions and go beyond what is needed to secure Iran’s borders,” Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche on the eve of his visit.
His statements have not been warmly received in Iran, with Zarif telling Monday’s reformist Etemad newspaper: “In order to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal, European countries are suffering from extremism and this will ultimately undermine Europe’s policy.”
The key focus of talks has been the 120-day deadline set by Trump in January for US lawmakers and European allies to “fix” the nuclear deal, removing “sunset clauses” that mean it expires in 2026 and reining in Iran’s missile program and regional activities.
Iran has refused any re-negotiation or additional clauses, arguing that the US has already failed to keep up its end of the bargain on the existing accord.
On Sunday, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi dismissed reports that Tehran and several European nations have begun negotiations over the Islamic Republic’s role in the Middle East.
“Despite the fact that Iran and the European Union (EU) have been negotiating about various regional subjects for decades, no discussions have been held over Tehran’s regional influence,” Qassemi said on Sunday.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman made the remarks after several Western diplomats claimed that Europe and Iran have commenced talks on Tehran’s role in the Middle East.
“Without any doubt this topic is not a new or odd one, but we reject such claims concerning an agreement for talks based on a definite framework,” he added.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman went on to say that Tehran and several EU nations did hold talks on the sidelines of the recent Munich conference about the situation in Yemen, however, he stressed that the talks were focused on the subject of aid delivery and ending Saudi Arabia’s war on its impoverished neighbor.