A prominent cleric has told Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian that Iran must negotiate with the rest of the world because it cannot live in isolation.
"No one can be trusted [fully] in the international community, but at the same time, no one is needless of negotiations and relations with other countries," Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli told Amir-Abdollahian Friday during his visit to Qom, the main concentration of Iranian Shiite seminaries and senior clerics.
"We have to negotiate with them and shake hands with them whether we want or not, but we have to count our fingers afterwards," Javadi-Amoli advised, according to remarks published on the ayatollah's personal portal.
Javadi Amoli is recognized by many Shiites as a grand ayatollah, which means he is accepted as a top religious authority.
The quotes came from a readout of the meeting published on the grand ayatollah's personal portal, while state media largely did not reflect his message about the importance of good relations with other countries.
Amir-Abdollahian visited several leading clerics, including grand ayatollahs Naser Makarem-Shirazi, Hossein Safi-Golpaygani, Jafar Sobhani, and Hossein Nouri-Hamedani, as well as Mohammad Saeedi, who holds the lesser title of hojjat ol-eslam.
The foreign ministry reported that Amir-Abdollahian had discussed regional developments including Afghanistan and the government commitment to prioritize relations with immediate neighbors. Saeedi, custodian of the Shiite shrine of Masoumeh, told the foreign minister that proving one is not on the enemy's side did not mean “cutting off economic and human relations with them.”
Amir-Abdollahian's visits to influential Shiite leaders in Qom came ahead of a round of nuclear talks between the administration of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran refuses to directly negotiate with the United States, even during multilateral nuclear talks currently underway in Vienna.
A few months after Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Javadi-Amoli welcomed the agreement while advising then foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to remain on guard. "We kept all that we needed" for work in medicine and agriculture, he told Zarif, but had conceded nothing, given Iran had never sought nuclear weapons.
Javadi-Amoli, who is 88, led a mission on behalf of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, to Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union in 1988. In January 2009, he resigned as Friday imam of Qom, possibly due to dissatisfaction with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election and handling of subsequent protests, and had generally good relations with the government of President Hassan Rouhani (2013-17).
As recipients of massive religious duties from their devout followers and as providers of funding for seminaries as well as their charitable foundations, grand ayatollahs wield great influence in the Shiite establishment, particularly Qom where most of them are based.
Visits to prominent ayatollahs by the president, parliament speaker, judiciary chief, and ministers are common before or after important occasions. The general content of such talks is published in readouts on personal portals.
Details usually remain private but occasionally reach the media. In November 2005 Baztab website, linked to former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei (Rezaee), published a video and transcript of a meeting with a cleric in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinjejad had claimed to have been surrounded by a “bright light” when addressing the United Nations two months earlier.
The story, whose leaking was taken to reflect the clerical establishment’s unease at Ahmadinejad, dogged the president for many years.