Iran’s supreme leader said Wednesday the Islamic Republic has a presence near Israel’s borders and is supporting militant groups throughout the region, adding that any negotiations with the US will “bring nothing but material and spiritual harm,” in remarks ahead of an American-led meeting on the Middle East in Warsaw.
The comments from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were part of a seven-page statement read word for word on Iranian state television and heavily promoted in the run-up to its release. They also come two days after Iran marked the 40th anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.
“Today the challenges concern Iran’s strong presence near the borders of the Zionist regime, putting an end to the United States’ unlawful infiltration in Western Asia, the Islamic Republic’s support for the Palestinian people’s resistance at the heart of the occupied territories as well as defending the high-flying flag of Hezbollah and the resistance throughout this region,” Khamenei said.
The US said it was confronting Iran’s influence in the Middle East and that it was currently concentrating on “preventing the transference of sophisticated Iranian weapons to resistance forces,” a reference to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria to thwart attempts to smuggle weapons to the Hezbollah terror group and keep Iranian-backed forces from entrenching themselves near the border.
“About the United States, the resolution of any issues is not imaginable and negotiations with it will bring nothing but material and spiritual harm,” Khamenei added.
The supreme leader went on to describe any negotiations as an “unforgivable mistake.” He also said any talks would be akin to “going on your knees before the enemy and kissing the claws of the wolf.”
In 2015 Khamenei approved talks between Iran and the United States that resulted in the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. The deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
However, that deal came under the administration of former US president Barack Obama. His successor Donald Trump last year quit the agreement, saying it provided Iran with relief without any substantial gains.
Since then, the United Nations says Iran has kept up its side of the bargain, though officials in Tehran have increasingly threatened to resume higher enrichment.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, during a cabinet meeting Wednesday, echoed Khamenei’s remarks, saying: “If the Iranian nation surrenders to the United States, it should surrender until the end.”
He said “Iran is about negotiation, but we are not ready to accept imposition, bullying, pressure and the trampling of our national rights.”
Amid the new tensions, Iran’s already-weakened economy has been further challenged. There have been sporadic protests in the country as well, incidents applauded by Trump amid Washington’s maximalist approach to Tehran.
However, some have suggested Iranian leaders meet with Trump in a summit, much like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Amir Mousavi, a former Iranian diplomat, has claimed that Trump sent a message to Rouhani last week requesting direct talks. Mousavi, speaking with Lebanese television station al-Mayadeen, said Trump is ready to visit Tehran and had sent several messages through intermediaries in Oman.
There has been no acknowledgment of such a request from Washington.
The Warsaw summit, which started Wednesday, was initially pegged as focusing entirely on Iran. However, the US subsequently made it about the broader Middle East, to boost participation.
Before departing for Poland on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that the focus of the conference will be Iran, an issue he said “unites Israel, the United States, many countries in the world.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif predicted the Warsaw summit would not be productive for the US. “I believe it’s dead on arrival or dead before arrival,” he said.