Khamenei unhappy over contacts with Obama and Kerry

Khamenei unhappy over contacts with Obama and Kerry

Supreme leader thinks new Iranian outreach to the US went too far, his chastened foreign minister admits

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during a meeting with Hasan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, on June 16, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during a meeting with Hasan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, on June 16, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader)

The central aspects of Iran’s recent outreach to the United States went too far for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his chastened foreign minister admitted, speaking a week before a critical round of diplomatic contacts over Iran’s rogue nuclear program.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that Khamenei had pointed at some “missteps” during the Iranian delegation’s visit to the UN General Assembly in New York last month, specifically Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s phone conversation with US President Barack Obama, and Zarif’s own meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Zarif’s comments were published Tuesday in the Iranian daily Kayhan, a conservative, hard-line newspaper, and translated by Uskowi on Iran, a political blog covering the Islamic Republic. According to the report, Zarif was questioned Sunday by the government’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission after Khamenei criticized the delegation’s actions.

“We [Zarif and Rouhani] thought that the talks [with Kerry] and the phone call [with Obama] were within the authority given to us,” the Iranian newspaper quoted Zarif as saying.

“But, it is our understanding that [Khamenei] has criticized us for Dr. Rouhani’s phone conversation with Obama — he regards that as the first misstep — and my long meeting with John Kerry, which he regards as the other misstep during our trip,” Zarif reportedly added.

At the end of the visit, Rouhani and Obama held a 15-minute phone call as the Iranian leader was traveling to the airport. It was the first conversation between the nations’ leaders in 34 years, raising hopes in the West of a possible breakthrough in talks over the future of Iran’s renegade nuclear program.

On Saturday, Khamenei said “some” aspects of Rouhani’s trip to the United Nations General Assembly were “not proper.” Khamenei also slammed the US as arrogant, dishonest, untrustworthy, and controlled by Zionists. He stopped short, however, of specifically criticizing either Rouhani’s conversation with Obama or Zarif’s meeting with Kerry.

The phone call drew flak last week from the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, who was otherwise supportive of Rouhani’s diplomatic efforts.

“The honorable president adopted mighty and appropriate stances during this trip, particularly in his address to the United Nations General Assembly,” Jafari said, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency. However, Jafari expressed some disapproval of Rouhani, arguing that instead of speaking by phone with Obama, he should have first waited for concrete changes in American policy.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Rouhani offered “transparency” on his country’s nuclear program, but firmly reserved the right to engage in what he termed “peaceful” uranium enrichment.

When he returned to Iran, Rouhani got a mixed reception at the airport, with several dozen hardline Islamists chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” as his motorcade drew away. Others attempted to obstruct the road by praying on the pavement. The protesters threw shoes, eggs and stones at Rouhani’s car but were outnumbered by several hundred supporters of the president who shouted, “Thank you Rouhani,” AFP reported.

Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction, its long-range missile program, and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian use. A new effort at finding a diplomatic solution to the dispute, backed by Obama and involving the P5+1 nations, is set to get under way next week.

Lazar Berman and Stuart Winer contributed to this report

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