DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday the dispute over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program could easily be resolved if the West were to stop being so stubborn.
While accusing the West of being more interested in regime change than ending the dispute, Khamenei did express a desire to resolve an issue which has led to ever tighter sanctions on Iran’s oil sector and the wider economy.
“Some countries have organized a united front against Iran and are misguiding the international community and with stubbornness do not want to see the nuclear issue resolved,” Khamenei’s official web site quoted him as saying.
“But if they put aside their stubbornness, resolving the nuclear issue would be simple,” he said, without setting out what specific concessions he wanted Western nations to make.
Hopes for a resolution to the nuclear dispute were boosted this month with the election of relative moderate Hassan Rouhani as president. As chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005, Rouhani reached a deal with European states under which Iran temporarily suspended uranium enrichment activities.
Rouhani, who takes office in August, has pledged a less confrontational approach than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under whose presidency, over the last eight years, Iran has come under increasingly tough international sanctions.
But it is Khamenei who has the final say on making a deal.
“LIKE A LION”
Iran experts were taken aback by Rouhani’s election after many had predicted a hardliner more strongly aligned with Khamenei would be installed, following the 2009 election that the opposition said was rigged against reformist candidates.
Since Rouhani’s June 14 victory, some analysts have said Khamenei must have wanted him to win in order to gain time in nuclear talks by presenting a more amenable face to the world.
Others have said this underestimates the complexity of Iran’s political system and the room for divergence within the ruling establishment.
Khamenei has repeatedly said a vote in the “epic” election was a vote for the system, but on Wednesday also appealed to national sentiment in a rare acknowledgement that some Iranians may not support the Islamic Republic, but yet may not fall into the category of “enemy”.
“This (turnout) shows that even people who do not support the system, trust it and its elections because they know that a robust Islamic Republic stands up like a lion and defends the national interests and dignity well,” he told a group of judges.
However the leader, chosen for life in 1989, appears convinced the West is bent on his removal and the destruction of the Iran’s system of clerical rule.
“The Islamic Republic has acted legally and transparently in the nuclear debate and offers logic in its arguments, but the aim of the enemies is through constant pressure, to tire Iran and change the regime and they will not allow the issue to be resolved,” Khamenei said.
U.S. President Barack Obama wrote to Khamenei in 2009 and in 2012 offering direct engagement, providing Iran was serious about ending concerns about its nuclear program.
But those overtures did little to assuage Khamenei’s concerns.
“Of course the enemies say in their words and letters than they do not want to change the regime, but their approaches are contrary to these words,” he said.
Additional reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Robin Pomeroy