Khamenei vows no retreat in crunch Iran talks

20th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

Iran's supreme leader vowed Wednesday no retreat from Tehran's nuclear "rights", as negotiators from world powers seeking an elusive breakthrough readied for high-stakes talks in Geneva.

Predicting the demise of "doomed" Israel, which Iran has accused of trying to "torpedo" a deal, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the powers must respect the Islamic republic's "red lines".

"I insist on stabilising the rights of the Iranian nation, including the nuclear rights," Khamenei, 74, told militiamen of the Basij force in Tehran, in a rare, live televised address.

"I insist on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation," he declared. Iran's negotiators "must respect these limits, and not fret about the hullabaloo of the enemies and those opposed" to these talks.

The comments came amid heightened Middle East tensions after twin suicide bombings that Tehran blamed on Israel's "mercenaries" killed at least 23 people outside Iran's Beirut embassy Tuesday.

The election of moderate Hassan Rouhani as president this year has raised big hopes for an end to the standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme after a decade of failed initiatives and rising tensions.

But Israel, widely assumed to have a formidable nuclear arsenal itself although it has never admitted it, has expressed alarm at the mooted deal on the table in Geneva.

Instead of stopping all uranium enrichment, as multiple UN Security Council resolutions have demanded, the powers appear to be happy with a suspension of enrichment at medium levels.

Along with other steps, this would be a "first-phase" deal while a long-term accord is hammered out by Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, known collectively as the P5+1.

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to take his campaign against the deal to Moscow Wednesday, this leaves intact Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb.

"You are not really dismantling any capacity to make fissile material for nuclear weapons," he said in an interview published in top-selling German daily Bild on Tuesday.

Israel has refused to rule out bombing Iran, which says its programme is peaceful.

Uranium enrichment is the main worry for the international community since enriched uranium has civilian uses but also can go into a bomb.

Iran already has enough for several bombs if it chose to enrich further to weapons-grade, a "breakout" that -- for now -- would be detected by the International Atomic Energy Agency UN watchdog.

Third time lucky

It remains to be seen whether Iran, seeking an easing of UN, US and EU sanctions that have more than halved the country's lifeblood oil exports, will accept what it is being offered in return.

On the table in the third meeting since Rouhani took office is "limited, temporary, targeted and reversible" relief that a senior US official said "will not come anywhere near helping Iran escape the hole that we've put them in."

"We will maintain the sanctions as long as we are not certain that Iran has definitively and irreversibly renounced its military programme to obtain nuclear weapons," French President Francois Hollande said in Israel on Monday.

If his "charm offensive" fails, Rouhani risks losing the support of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, experts say.

Guarded optimism

Nevertheless Iran's foreign minister was upbeat about the prospects of reaching a deal in Geneva, 10 days after a high-drama gathering in the same Swiss city came close but ultimately failed.

"I think there is every possibility for success," Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also posted a conciliatory but defiant video message online on Tuesday, said on a stopover in Rome.

But US President Barack Obama, fresh from seeking to dissuade lawmakers from imposing new sanctions on Iran, was more cautious: "I don't know if we will be able to close a deal this week or next week."

British Prime Minister David Cameron's office said Tuesday after he also phoned Rouhani -- the first such contact in a decade -- that both leaders agreed it was "important to seize the opportunity".

© 2013 AFP

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