Iran leader signals support for nuke talks at critical stage

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader on Monday signaled support for Tehran’s nuclear negotiations to secure sanctions relief, a rare reference to the still-halted talks as world powers near a diplomatic turning point.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed the importance of Iranian economic self-sufficiency during a lengthy televised speech on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. But he quickly added:

“I do not say that you should not seek to lift the sanctions. Those who are trying and working in that field, there is no problem.”

Khamenei, whose pronouncements are considered vital as he has the final say on all state matters in Iran, has remained largely silent on the negotiations to restore Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. His vague but supportive comments signaled that Iranian negotiators retained political space and flexibility.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear accord in 2018. President Joe Biden promised to revive it. Painstaking talks in Vienna have dragged on for the past year. Iran, its economy strangled, has urged sanctions relief but sought to resist tough Western demands.

Negotiations nearly reached completion earlier this month before Moscow demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray. Negotiators have yet to reconvene in the Austrian capital, and it’s unclear exactly what hurdles lie ahead.

“The essence of the issue is to run the country in such a way that sanctions cannot hit the country seriously,” Khamenei said, praising the hard-line government of President Ebrahim Raisi for boosting Iran’s trade with its neighbors and shipping Iranian crude abroad despite sanctions. “There is another way for us to use oil revenues for the country’s infrastructure.”

In his remarks, Khamenei also weighed in on Russia’s war in Ukraine — echoing some of President Vladimir Putin’s talking points without ever mentioning Russia at all.

“You look at Ukraine, its president who was appointed by Western governments, what a sharp tone he now uses to address the West,” Khamenei said, extolling Iran’s resistance to foreign interference and military development since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “The choice of our nation was not surrender to arrogance, it was resistance, it was maintaining independence.”

Iran generally considers Russia an ally and feels united with Putin’s anti-American and anti-Western stances.

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