Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that Iran does not need negotiations with the United States over its nuclear program, apparently seeking to reassure hard-liners the country will not cave in as it considers a key Western incentives package.
Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters, did not give his position on the proposals aimed at persuading Iran to impose a long-term moratorium on enriching uranium.
In Washington, White House press secretary Tony Snow said Khamenei’s remarks were “ambiguous” and that the Bush administration has heard varying responses from different quarters in Iran. He said Washington expects a formal response from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
“We’re waiting for a consistent, official response,” Snow said.
Iran received the proposals June 6, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the government will not respond officially until at least mid-August. The United States and Europe are pressing for a quicker reply.
Internal divisions apparent
The long period of deliberations suggests internal divisions within Iran’s leadership over the proposals, which entail major concessions from Washington and a difficult compromise by Tehran.
The United States has said it would join direct talks with Iran, which is being asked to suspend uranium enrichment — a program it has vowed to pursue and never give up completely. Enrichment is a process that can produce fuel for nuclear generators or the material for nuclear warheads.
The United States and its allies suspect that Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities are a cover for a weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear program is limited to peaceful energy uses.
Hard-liners in Iran’s clerical-run leadership have called on the government to reject the proposals and have painted any agreement to talks with Washington as a surrender.
‘No benefit for us’
Khamenei’s remarks could be aimed at assuaging their fears by showing that talks with the United States are not a major lure for the government and that negotiations with the West will not mean giving up enrichment.
“Negotiations with the United States would have no benefit for us, and we do not need them,” state television quoted Khamenei as telling visiting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.
He said Iran was willing to hold talks on its own terms, warning that the West can misuse the negotiating process to bar Tehran from what it considers its right to pursue enrichment.
“We do not negotiate with anybody on achieving and exploiting nuclear technology,” Khamenei said. “But if they recognize our nuclear rights, we are ready to negotiate about controls, supervisions and international guarantees.”
Details of nuke package
Earlier this year, Khamenei supported negotiations with Washington over stabilizing neighboring Iraq. In doing so, he overruled hard-liner opposition, though the prospects of U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraq have fallen apart since then.
If Iran accepts the incentives package, the United States has offered to join European nations in multilateral talks with Tehran over a framework that will guarantee its nuclear program cannot produce weapons.
The package also offers the lifting of some U.S. sanctions and other economic incentives, as well as a promise of American and European nuclear technology for Iran.
Washington’s offer to join talks was seen as a major concession since the United States lists Iran as a sponsor of international terrorism and there have been no diplomatic relations between the two countries since 1979, when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage for 444 days.
President Bush has warned Iran that it faces U.N. Security Council action unless it accepts the incentives. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned Iran on Saturday that it faces isolation if it rejects the package.