Iran hints at diplomatic route to nuclear compromise

Ayatollah suggests new president Rouhani may have compromise talks with US

“I am not opposed to proper moves in diplomacy, and I still believe in what I named years ago as champion’s leniency,” says Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photograph: Reuters

“I am not opposed to proper moves in diplomacy, and I still believe in what I named years ago as champion’s leniency,” says Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Sep 18, 2013, 01:00


Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given the clearest signal yet that the new president, the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, has the authority to conduct direct talks with the US and offer compromises in nuclear negotiations.

The ayatollah told the Islamic republic’s revolutionary guards there was room for leniency in diplomacy. “Diplomacy is the field of smiling and requests for talks,” he said yesterday in a speech delivered to senior commanders of the elite forces in Tehran, according to his official website. “I am not opposed to proper moves in diplomacy, and I still believe in what I named years ago as champion’s leniency.”

As the supreme leader, the ayatollah (74) has the final say in all state matters, especially concerning direct negotiations with the US, which Tehran considers its sworn enemy, and any major agreements about the nuclear programme.

In diplomacy, he said, one should have the flexibility of a wrestler, perhaps giving way at times for tactical reasons but never forgetting who is the “rival and enemy”.


Flexibility
By referring to “champion’s leniency”, the ayatollah was invoking the subtitle of a book he translated from Arabic called Imam Hassan’s Peace, which is about how the second Shia imam, Hasan ibn Ali, averted war by showing flexibility and entering an agreement with his enemy 14 centuries ago.

The ayatollah was speaking a few days after it emerged that US president Barack Obama had exchanged letters with Mr Rouhani raising the chances of a historic meeting between the two men at the UN general assembly next week and possible future high-level meetings between Tehran and Washington.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, confirmed yesterday that letters had been exchanged, saying Mr Obama had written to Mr Rouhani congratulating him on his election victory, and Mr Rouhani had responded.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear official who worked as Mr Rouhani’s deputy on Iran’s supreme national security council from 1997 to 2005, wrote in an article last week that Mr Khamenei had given consent for direct talks with the Obama administration. “Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued permission for President Hassan Rouhani’s new administration to enter into direct talks with the US,” he wrote in the Japan Times. “No better opportunity to end decades of bilateral hostility is likely to come along.”


Politics
The ayatollah told the guards, who are accused by the west of largely supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria militarily and financially, that they should stay away from politics. “It is not necessary for the guards to have activities in the political field,” he said, echoing Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic republic, who banned the elite forces from involvement in politics after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Despite this, the guards have been extensively involved in Iranian politics recently, especially under the eight-year rule of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when they expanded their political and financial operations.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s words echoed those of Mr Rouhani on Monday, when he asked the guards to “stay above and beyond political currents”, and warned them against competing with the will of the people.– (Guardian service)