July 18, 2015


[At the same time, Mr. Khamenei made clear that a single agreement does not mean Iran’s relationship with the United States will change, and he promised to continue support for regional allies, including President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement.]

By Thomas Erdbrink
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran portrayed the nuclear deal favorably in a speech after 
a prayer marking the end of the Muslim fasting month Ramadan. Credit Office of
 the Iranian Supreme Leader, via Associated Press
TEHRAN — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, voiced support on Saturday for his country’s nuclear deal with world powers while emphasizing that the agreement did not signal an end to Iran’s hostility toward the United States and its allies, especially Israel.

“Their actions in the region are 180 degrees different from ours,” he said, while also praising Iran’s annual anti-Israel rally, known here as Quds Day, and the slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

Speaking after a special prayer marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Mr. Khamenei portrayed the nuclear agreement as a victory for Iran, not least because it does not require the country to completely stop enriching uranium, as some in the West had wanted. The speech appeared to remove a main obstacle to formal approval of the agreement in Iran.

“After 12 years of struggling with the Islamic republic, the result is that they have to bear the turning of thousands of centrifuges in the country,” Mr. Khamenei said, referring to the United States and its five negotiating partners.

Though analysts said his positive portrayal of the agreement would probably quiet hard-line critics in Iran, it also seemed likely to become fodder for critics in the United States, complicating President Obama’s efforts to sell the deal to Congress and the American people.

The agreement, which in its final form runs to 159 pages, was reached on Tuesday after 20 months of negotiations between Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States. It is intended to significantly limit Tehran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons for more than a decade in return for lifting international sanctions.

Mr. Obama has made the agreement a benchmark of his presidency. It is opposed by Republicans and by Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of the United States’ most significant allies in the region. They have denounced it as a diplomatic mistake that will strengthen the economic and military power of a nation that aggressively threatens its neighbors, engages in and supports hostage-taking and terrorism, and is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, deal or no deal.

Mr. Obama has insisted that the agreement is “not built on trust — it is built on verification.” Mr. Khamenei portrayed it as an acceptance by the West of Iran’s commitment to go ahead with a nuclear program, which its leaders have insisted was being pursued solely for peaceful purposes.

Like most of his remarks, the speech attempted a delicate balance between appeasing anti-West hard-liners and those longing for change in Iran, with rhetoric that could be interpreted favorably on either side of the domestic divide.

The speech stopped short of a flat-out endorsement of the agreement, but because it did not include any specific criticism of it the deal, analysts said it would probably speed the acceptance of the agreement by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and parliament.

At the same time, Mr. Khamenei made clear that a single agreement does not mean Iran’s relationship with the United States will change, and he promised to continue support for regional allies, including President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement.

Under the agreement, Iran is forced to give up large parts of its nuclear program and accept intrusive inspections, even of military sites. The number of its uranium-enrichment centrifuges will be cut by two-thirds. Iran’s leaders say that what matters is Western acceptance that Iran will continue to have a nuclear program and that when the agreement ends in 2025, Iran will be able to enrich uranium and plutonium without limits.

A draft resolution canceling sanctions against Iran and formalizing the steps that Iran is expected to take is to be presented at the United Nations Security Council on Monday. The five permanent members of the council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran along with Germany.

Several leading members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have urged President Obama not to submit the agreement to the Security Council until Congress has first voted its approval or disapproval.

Critics say that by restoring Iran’s potential access to around $100 billion in frozen funds around the world, the agreement will free the country to finance an expanded campaign of aggression in the Middle East.

Iranian hard-liners have been complaining that the deal’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program make it just a symbol rather than an industrial-size energy-producing effort. Many hard-liners also feared that a nuclear deal would be the end of Iran’s hostile stance toward the United States.

Mr. Khamenei nodded to the complaints, accusing the West of trying to “remove all of the nuts and bolts of Iran’s nuclear industry.”

As for the end of hostility with the West, such a thing will never happen, said Mr. Khamenei, making clear that new relations between Iran and the United States, and possibly cooperation on other issues, are “dreams” that will not become a reality.

“We do not negotiate with the U.S. about different global and regional issues,” Mr. Khamenei said. “We do not negotiate about bilateral issues. Sometimes, in some exceptional cases, like the nuclear case, and due to the expediency, we may negotiate.”

He also seized on remarks by Mr. Obama at a news conference on Thursday, when the president acknowledged that the United States had made mistakes in its Iran policies, such as organizing a coup in 1953 and supporting the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran between 1980 and 1988.

“He mentioned two or three points but did not confess to tens of others,” Mr. Khamenei said.

“I am telling you,” the ayatollah said, referring to the United States, “you are making a mistake now — in different parts of this region, but especially about the Iranian nation.” He did not offer specifics. “Wake up,” he said. “Stop making mistakes. Understand the reality.”

Analysts said Mr. Khamenei’s remarks would quiet critics.

“He has stopped insisting on red lines and other restrictions; he also avoided any details of the agreement,” said Nader Karimi Joni, an Iranian journalist in favor of a nuclear deal. “He supports the deal and agrees with its contents.”

Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the government, said the speech “cooled down hard-liners, who had been preparing to openly oppose the deal.”

At the same time, he said, “Even, in the very unlikely event that an American embassy will ever be opened here, the slogans of ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ will not be forgotten.”

Indeed, Mr. Khamenei stressed that — deal or no deal — Iran would never stop supporting its regional allies. “We will always support the oppressedPalestinian nation, Yemen, Syrian government and people, Iraq, and oppressed Bahraini people, and also the honest fighters of Lebanon andPalestine,” he said.

American support for Israel will remain a roadblock, he signaled. He cited the United States’s description of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and asked how “Americans can support the child-killing Zionist government, and call Hezbollah terrorist? How can one interact, negotiate, or come to an agreement with such a policy?”

Worshipers began chanting and pumping their fists as he said the slogans “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” would continue to be heard in the streets of Iran.