Iran’s supreme leader distances himself from nuclear deal

Ayatollah Khamenei accuses US of failing to honour pledges and warns on future relations

Iran's top leader has distanced himself from the nuclear agreement reached with major powers a year ago, accusing the United States of failing to honour pledges in the accord and citing "the futility of negotiations with the Americans".

In blunt remarks prominently featured in Iran's state news media, the senior leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the talks that led to the nuclear agreement in July 2015 should be regarded as an instructive lesson on the dangers posed by interactions with governments he regards as enemies.

The ayatollah, who has the final word on Iran’s national security and other vital issues, did not suggest that he wanted to abandon the agreement, which took effect in January and sharply limited Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of many western economic sanctions.

But his remarks indicated that he was hedging against any unravelling of the agreement. He had endorsed the accord despite many of his own public warnings of interactions with the US.


“Today, even the diplomatic officials and those who were present in the negotiations reiterate the fact that the US is breaching its promises, and while speaking softly and sweetly, is busy obstructing and damaging Iran’s economic relations with other countries,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a translation reported by Press TV, an official Iranian English-language news site.

He said the agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, “once again proved the futility of negotiations with the Americans, their lack of commitment to their promises and the necessity of distrust of US pledges”.

He cautioned against talks with the US on other regional crises, presumably including the wars in Syria and Yemen and the Islamic State extremist group. The experience of the nuclear deal, he said, "tells us that taking this step would be a deadly poison and that the Americans' remarks cannot be trusted on any issue".

Boost for hardliners

Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks may strengthen the hardline conservative factions in the Iranian hierarchy and their hostility toward President

Hassan Rouhani

, who made achieving a nuclear agreement a central objective in his 2013 election campaign. While oil sales have increased, Mr Rouhani’s optimism about other expected dividends of the agreement – an end to Iran’s isolation and a rush of foreign investment and economic growth – have yet to occur, imperilling his prospects for re-election next year.

Despite the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, Iran is still barred from using the United States' financial system because of many other prohibitions imposed after the break in relations more than three decades ago. Big European banks, wary of violating those prohibitions and already leery about doing business in Iran, have largely stayed away, frustrating Iranian officials. The banking problems have played a significant role in delaying Iran's purchases of new jetliners from Boeing and Airbus, which the nuclear agreement specifically permitted. Congress has further angered Iranian officials by threatening new sanctions that could scuttle those purchases.

Secretary of state John Kerry, who played a critical role in reaching the nuclear agreement, has said the US is working to ensure that all of the accord's provisions, including the relaxation of the sanctions, are enforced. But worries about the durability of the agreement have increased because of two other developments since it took effect: Britain's vote in June to leave the European Union, and the possibility that Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, could win the November election.

The British vote has sent economic chills through the EU, which may divert or delay European business ambitions in Iran. Mr Trump has called the nuclear agreement a disaster, suggesting he would seek to renegotiate it or withdraw US participation.

Political analysts outside Iran called Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks his strongest criticism of the agreement to date. Some said they saw practical goals behind his bellicose words.

"He is pressing the West to move more quickly on investing in Iran, so that Iranians feel the deal helping their economy," said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in Washington. "But Khamenei is also buying a political insurance policy on the off chance that his elites turn against the agreement, and that's a problem."

New York Times