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Khamenei says nuclear talks ‘going well,’ but shouldn’t determine the future of Iran

Iranian supreme leader blames the US for halted negotiations, urges Tehran’s representatives in Vienna to continue despite ‘America’s excessive demands’

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a televised New Year speech, in Tehran, Iran, on March 21, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a televised New Year speech, in Tehran, Iran, on March 21, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that the future of his country shouldn’t depend on the resurrection of its nuclear deal with world powers.

He also said that the talks to revive the 2015 pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, are “going well.”

“Absolutely do not wait for nuclear negotiations in planning for the country and move forward,” Khamenei told a gathering of senior officials, state TV reported.

“Do not let your work be disrupted whether the negotiations reach positive or semi-positive or negative results.”

Iran has been engaged for a year in negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China directly, and the United States indirectly, to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Negotiations in the Austrian capital Vienna aim to return the US to the nuclear deal, including through the lifting of sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments. However, key sticking points remain unresolved after talks were halted last month.

“The United States broke its promises [by exiting the deal] and now they have reached a dead end while Iran is not in such a situation,” Khamenei said, while calling Tehran’s negotiators to continue “resisting America’s excessive demands.”

Despite the optimism regarding the talks’ progress, Khamenei’s comments seemed to reflect those made on Monday by Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, who questioned the US’ will in reaching an agreement.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh speaks to media during a press conference in Tehran, on April 11, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

“We really don’t know if we’ll get a deal or not, because the United States hasn’t shown the necessary will to reach an agreement,” he said. “What remains are the decisions of Washington.”

Earlier this month, Khatibzadeh’s counterpart in the State Department Ned Price said it was Tehran that was not giving way to make a deal possible, but that Washington still believed there was an “opportunity to overcome our remaining differences.”

The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.

But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under then-US president Donald Trump and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions under a “maximum pressure” campaign prompted Iran to begin publicly rolling back on its own commitments.

“All components of maximum pressure must be removed,” Khatibzadeh said. “Unfortunately, the United States is trying to maintain some of the elements of maximum pressure,” he added.

TV cameras in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna,’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The talks have been paused since March 11, after Russia demanded guarantees that Western sanctions imposed following its February 24 invasion of Ukraine would not damage its trade with Iran.

Days later, Moscow said it had received the necessary guarantees.

The negotiations had progressed most of the way toward reviving the deal, with different parties pointing to the “final phase,” but pending issues are still unresolved.

“More than one issue is remaining between us and the United States,” Khatibzadeh added.

Among the key sticking points is Tehran’s demand to delist the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from a US terror list.

Last month, US negotiator Rob Malley said the Guards would remain “sanctioned by American law” even in the event of an agreement.

“What is important to us is the certain benefit of the Iranian people from the lifting of the sanctions,” Khatibzadeh said.

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