BEIRUT President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the goal of Iran's negotiations with world powers on its nuclear program was a "win-win" outcome, a further signal that Tehran could accept a compromise to defuse a stand-off that has raised fears of war.
He said “win-win” would entail Iran showing transparency in pursuing peaceful nuclear energy in exchange for a removal of “wrong, inhumane and illegal” sanctions imposed on Iran over suspicions of a covert nuclear bomb agenda.
On Sunday, Iran's highest authority, clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hinted he could accept a deal in which neither side got everything it wanted and gave his strongest defense yet of Rouhani's decision to negotiate with the West, a policy opposed by powerful hardliners at home.
Khamenei, however, also warned it would be better to have no agreement with the powers than a bad one.
Rouhani has often been blasted by conservative hardliners in the clerical and security elite for allegedly undermining Iran's national interests through pursuing detente with the West.
In his speech on Wednesday at ceremonies marking the 36th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Rouhani emphasized that Khamenei has backed the high-stakes diplomacy - an attempt to quiet his hawkish critics.
“The same way that we defended our independence on the battlefield, we have and will continue to defend our independence at the negotiating table,” Rouhani said, according to the official news agency IRNA.
“What we are after in the negotiations is to reach a win-win mutual understanding.”
The negotiations between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain face an initial deadline for a basic framework agreement at the end of March, and a June 30 deadline for a final settlement.
Both U.S. and Iranian officials suggest those deadlines are unlikely to change. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday extending the March deadline would not be useful if Iran did not agree to a framework assuring world powers it is not pursuing nuclear arms capability through its enrichment of uranium.
Iran denies having any nuclear weapons ambitions.
The broad goal of the negotiations is to restrain Iran's nuclear capacity to remove any concerns it could be put to developing bombs in return for the lifting of sanctions that have ravaged the Iranian economy.
Rouhani also addressed criticism about Iran’s regional role.
“If you want peace and well-being to be in place in the Middle East and you want terrorism to be uprooted, then there’s no path other than the presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said, according to Fars news agency.
“You saw that in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen that the power that was able to help the people of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen in the face of terrorist groups was the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
By "terrorist groups", Rouhani seemed to be alluding to Sunni Muslim militants such as al Qaeda and Islamic State that some governments in the region have fought with the help of Shi'ite Muslim Iran.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)