Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declares that all sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any deal is signed and that military sites would be off-limits to foreign inspectors.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader Thursday challenged two of the United States’ bedrock principles in the nuclear negotiations, saying that all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed and that military sites would be off-limits to foreign inspectors.
The assertions by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could be tactical, intended to give negotiators and himself some political space to get Iran’s hard-liners accustomed to the framework of the nuclear deal reached a week ago with the United States and other world powers.
But they also illustrated the hurdles ahead as Secretary of State John Kerry and a large team of diplomats, energy experts and intelligence officials try to meet a June 30 deadline that would assure that Iran could not race for a bomb for at least a decade — and would establish a permanent inspection process to catch any cheating.
Khamenei, 75, also strongly criticized Iran’s regional competitor, Saudi Arabia — calling its new leaders “inexperienced youngsters” — a sign of rising regional tensions that could pose another threat to the negotiations. King Salman, the country’s newly installed leader, is 79, though many around him are a generation younger.
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The civil war in Yemen is fast becoming a major source of regional instability, drawing in a U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other, and leading Kerry to warn Iran this week to back off.
It was the first time Khamenei has discussed the framework that emerged from the nuclear talks last week in Lausanne, Switzerland. His pronouncements are considered vital because they shape the “red lines” for Iranian negotiators.
Khamenei said Thursday that he saw no need to make a clear pronouncement earlier on the deal because no signed agreement existed.
“There was no need to take a position,” he said. “The officials are saying that nothing has been done yet and nothing is obligatory. I neither agree nor disagree.”
But he emphasized his longstanding position about the sanctions, saying they “should be lifted all together on the same day of the agreement, not six months or one year later.”
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who spoke at a different event Thursday, echoed Khamenei’ s remarks, but with a potentially crucial difference, saying the sanctions have to be lifted on the day a deal is put in place, potentially months after a signed agreement.
“We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” Rouhani said at a ceremony for Iran’s nuclear-technology day, which celebrates the country’s nuclear achievements.
The ayatollah’s comments pose some significant potential challenges to Kerry and his negotiating team.
Kerry and President Obama have been saying sanctions would be suspended in phases, as Iran complies with its obligations. That is critical to U.S. leverage in making sure that Iran follows through on its commitments to vastly reduce its uranium stockpile — a process that will take months, if not longer — and decommissions centrifuges, placing them in storage.
On Wednesday night, on the “PBS NewsHour,” Kerry said that in any final agreement, Iran would also have to resolve outstanding questions with the International Atomic Energy Agency over suspected military dimensions of the nuclear program. “It will be part of a final agreement,” he said. “It has to be.”
He did not say whether satisfying the inspectors would be a requirement before sanctions are lifted.
On Thursday, Khamenei seemed to rule out any inspections inside military bases or compounds: “The country’s military officials are not permitted at all to allow the foreigners to cross these boundaries or stop the country’s defensive development under the pretext of supervision and inspection.”