TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader on Friday urged citizens to become more self-reliant as the country begins what is likely to be another economically trying year under the weight of international sanctions.
“The Iranian nation should strengthen itself. If a nation is not strong, it will be bullied and trampled,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an annual televised speech marking Nowruz, the first day of the Iranian new year.
“The strength of a nation does not rely on weapons alone,” Khamenei said in the 90-minute address, delivered at Iran’s holiest Shiite Muslim site in the northeastern city of Mashhad. “There are three important elements that make a nation strong: economy, culture and knowledge.”
Khamenei did not mention negotiations between Iran and six world powers over the Islamic republic’s contested nuclear activities, a possible sign that he approves of how President Hassan Rouhani’s administration is handling the talks.
On the same occasion last year, Khamenei said, “I am not optimistic about talks with the U.S., but I’m not opposed to them, either.”
In what has become an annual ritual, U.S. officials also addressed the Iranian people to mark their new year. President Obama this year signaled hope that a lasting nuclear accord, which he said would allow Iran “access to peaceful nuclear energy,” is within reach.
“Iran’s highest officials, including Supreme Leader Khamenei, have said that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. So there is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only,” Obama said.
Obama’s message reflected how much has changed in Iran’s political landscape and its foreign policy over the past year.
The surprising presidential election victory in June 2013 by the relatively moderate Rouhani, and a new diplomatic approach directed by his U.S.-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, resulted in the most direct contacts between Tehran and Washington since diplomatic relations were severed in 1980 following the Iranian seizure of the U.S. Embassy here.
After little progress in nearly a decade of nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers that left Iran increasingly isolated, the two sides struck an interim deal in November that gave Iran limited relief from economic sanctions in exchange for suspending its most sensitive nuclear activities.
The most recent round of negotiations, which are intended to design a permanent deal, ended Wednesday with both sides’ negotiating teams expressing hope that a final accord is possible in the coming months.
“The other side has finally grasped what we had been trying to say, especially when it comes to the practical needs of having a nuclear program which is logical and peaceful,” Zarif told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Thursday. “This by itself is major progress.”
The U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday that it was taking steps to improve educational exchanges between the United States and Iran, which have been nearly impossible in recent years due to sanctions.