Iran’s supreme leader has given the green light for his country to resume talks with world powers to end its long-running nuclear disputes.
“Americans are well aware we are not after nuclear weapons, but they still raise the charges every now and then to keep up the anti-Iran hype,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, as he addressed a group of nuclear scientists and officials gathered to mark Iran’s “Nuclear Technology Day,” an important event in the Iranian calendar.
“That’s why I agreed to the government’s initiative to negotiate, just to break the hype and expose the truth to world opinion,” he said, referring to moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overture to the West after his landslide election last June.
But Khamenei’s insistence that Tehran should not erode gains made by its scientists raised concerns of unresolved differences.
Iran hopes to end decades-long sanctions that have battered its economy and will only be lifted if a deal is sealed. It also wants to regain what it sees as its rightful place as a leading regional power.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said his country, as well as the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, are in “50 to 60 percent agreement” on the shape of the deal, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Speaking at the end of two-day talks in Austria with world powers, Zarif said he expected an informal July deadline for a final deal to be met.
But Khamenei, who wields near absolute power in Iran, said there was a limit to how far Iran would go to satisfy its adversaries on the nuclear issue.
“Our pursuit of nuclear science will never halt. We will not cede any of our gains in nuclear research and development
and our negotiators must not allow the other side to bully Iran,” he said, in comments cited by the official IRNA news agency.
“The decision to negotiate doesn’t mean we will backtrack on the issue.”
Speaking in Austria’s capital Vienna, European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said “a lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences ahead,” according to AP.
Ashton also said some progress was made and negotiators were now looking to the next round to “bridge the gaps standing in way of a comprehensive agreement”.
The developments come amid a diplomatic spat between Iran and the US over Washington’s apparent refusal to grant a visa to Tehran’s newly appointed ambassador to the UN.
The US refused Hamid Aboutalebi a visa citing his alleged links to the 1979 US hostage crisis in Tehran. Washington has not had any diplomatic ties with Iran since the crisis.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Aboutalebi selection was “not viable”, a day after the US Senate passed a resolution that would deny him a visa.
But Iran has defended Aboutalebi’s appointment, brushing aside US concerns, and did so again on Wednesday.