TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s supreme leader said on Wednesday the Islamic Republic would not conduct talks with the United States about its nuclear program unless sanctions and military threats were lifted.
“What they say, our president and others are saying, that we will negotiate — yes we will, but not with America because America is not negotiating honestly and like a normal negotiator,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech to senior officials.
“Put away the threats and put away the sanctions.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran is willing to resume negotiations with a group of six global powers in the coming weeks.
It was not entirely clear if Khamenei was ruling out resuming talks with the six, which include the United States, or saying there would be no bilateral talks with Washington — an unlikely prospect given the lack of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties.
The powers want such talks to concentrate on a deal to rein in Iran’s disputed uranium enrichment program, something Iran has said is non-negotiable. Iran says the work is for producing electricity, not nuclear weapons as Western powers suspect.
Previously talks have been held with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — plus Germany. Ahmadinejad said he wanted other countries to be included this time.
But Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran, rejected talks with the United States which, in addition to successfully pressing for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, reserves the right to use military action should such punitive measures and diplomacy fail to rein in Iranian nuclear activity.
“If superpowers want to threaten and put pressure and impose sanctions and show an iron hand and, on the other hand, seek to sit at the negotiating table, this is not a negotiation and we will not have this kind of negotiation with anyone,” he said.
Khamenei added that Iran did not rule out talking to the United States in different circumstances. “If these conditions are implemented, as I announced some years ago, we haven’t sworn not to negotiate forever.”
Washington has not ruled out a pre-emptive strike to prevent Iran getting a nuclear bomb, but has said it remains committed to a “dual-track approach” of sanctions and diplomacy with the offer of incentives to Iran to suspend sensitive nuclear work.
Tehran is due to start installing fuel rods in its first nuclear power-generating station — a Russian-built complex unrelated to its enrichment activity — on Saturday.
Khamenei also warned Washington against striking Iran.
“It is unlikely they (United States) will carry out such a stupid measure but everybody should know that in the event of any such attack the Iranian nation’s response will not be limited to the (Middle East) region and it will have a wider reach.”
Iranian officials have often said they could close the Strait of Hormuz in the event of military action — cutting off the Gulf shipping route for 40 percent of all seaborne oil.
Analysts say the Islamic Republic could also target U.S. forces in the region and that militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah could also take retaliatory action in support of Iran.
Reporting by Hossein Jaseb; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Mark Heinrich