Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Saturday that hostility between the Islamic republic and the “arrogant” United States will not abate after a landmark nuclear agreement and that Iran will keep supporting regional groups and governments that the West opposes.
“Whether the deal is approved or disapproved, we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon,” Khamenei said at the end of prayers marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. “Even after this deal, our policy toward the arrogant U.S. will not change. We don’t have any negotiations or deal with the U.S. on different issues in the world or the region.”
Khamenei’s speech was his first since Iran and six world powers, including the United States, announced on Tuesday that they had reached an agreement in which Iran accepts restrictions on its nuclear power program for 10 years or longer, and intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities. In return, Iran can expect to see international sanctions start to be lifted by the end of this year or early next year.
Khamenei’s remarks are significant because, as supreme leader, he has the final word on official policy; if he opposes the agreement, Iran could back out of the deal. His speech was broadcast on state television, and some members of the audience could be heard chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” as is common at rallies attended by hard-liners.
Khamenei’s criticism appeared to be an attempt to appease hard-liners who oppose negotiations with the United States, which many still refer to as “the Great Satan.” Many of the deal’s critics in the United States have said Tehran is likely to take at least some of more than $100 billion in Iranian assets that will be unfrozen when sanctions are lifted and divert it to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, Houthi rebels in Yemen and the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Khamenei’s remarks are often cryptic to Western ears, and during more than a year and a half of negotiations, he alternately praised Iranian negotiators and condemned the United States. Iran’s negotiators were allied with President Hassan Rouhani, who is considered more of a pragmatist favoring greater engagement with the world. But the negotiators were repeatedly assured during the talks that they were acting with the authority of Khamenei.
He did not address the specifics of the deal, although he portrayed it as a win for Iran. While Iran agreed to pare back two-thirds of its uranium-enriching centrifuges, it will be left with thousands of centrifuges and be allowed to continue research into more efficient models that could be installed after the agreement’s provisions end.
Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes such as energy production. But the United States and its allies believe Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons under a program abandoned in 2003. The negotiated deal was designed to block Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons for a decade or more.
“The Americans say they stopped Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Khamenei said. “They know it’s not true.”
Khamenei said Iran considers nuclear weapons anti-Islamic, and added, “It had nothing to do with the nuclear talks.”
Next week, a resolution will be introduced at the United Nations Security Council laying the groundwork for lifting sanctions and endorsing the agreement finalized in Vienna.