Iran's Supreme Leader on Thursday appeared to be upping the ante in the talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal after a period of relative silence on the issue.
"It's a big error to bow to the pressure from America or other powers to secure protection against sanctions, which will deal a blow to the nation's political power," Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in an address to members of the Assembly of Experts.
"Our regional power provides us with strategic depth and more national strength, why should we give it up? Advancement in nuclear science will help us meet the country's needs in the future, who can we turn to a few years later if we give it up now?" he said, adding that there was nothing more "naive and inexpertly" than suggestions to reduce the country's defensive (military) power to "avoid raising the enemy's sensitivity".
"Over time [many] such feeble and faulty suggestions have been made, all of which were revocable, and they were revoked. Iran would be facing great dangers if those who wanted to sever some of the arms of national power were allowed to do so," he said in a rather uncompromising tone.
Members of the Assembly of Experts listening to Khamenei. Former president Hassan Rouhani on the first row.
In his speech Khamenei cited “security and defense power", the "power of politicking and bargaining to fulfill national interests at the regional and global front”, and securing a strong economy and public’s wellbeing among the "pillars of national power". “None of these arms of national power should be cut off in favor of one pillar and the other,” Khamenei said.
Iran has been enriching uranium to 60-percent purity since early 2021 shortening the time it would need to reach 90-percent needed for a nuclear bomb. It first started to enrich to 20-peercent purity in 2019 when the United States strengthened oil sanctions imposed a year earlier when former president Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The higher-level enrichment violates the nuclear agreement.
Officials say sanction have affected people's livelihoods but insist the government is finding ways to minimize their impact and the country can endure. In his speech Khamenei made no mention of how he intends to ensure "public welfare and easy livelihood" if sanctions were not lifted.
Iran has also continued expanding its ballistic missile and other weapons programs, resisiting any Western attempts to discuss limitations.
A key website, Nour News, on Thursday insisted that a nuclear deal would not stop Iran's missile program and praised Tehran’s negotiators in the Vienna nuclear talks for having thwarted US attempts to force Iran to discuss its missile program. On Saturday the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) unveiled two underground missile bases and on Tuesday put a second military satellite into orbit.
Earlier on Thursday, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Shamkhani said nuclear talks "get knottier by the hour" and accused the US of not being interested in a "strong deal".
Officials involved in the talks in Vienna last week, including the Russian envoy to the talks, appeared very optimistic about reaching a deal even as early as this week. Uncertainties arose on Saturday when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted written guarantees from the US that its nuclear and economic relations with Tehran would not be affected by sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the new complication Tehran and Moscow argue that major and secondary issues have remained unresolved, which the Western side should address before a final text can be agreed on and hold the US responsible for the delay in signing the deal.