A deal with West can be accepted if it does not impact Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Islamic Republic’s 84-year-old authoritarian ruler Ali Khamenei said Sunday.
Khamenei who was addressing a group of Iranian nuclear scientists and officials in Tehran also claimed that Iran will not opt for nuclear weapons simply because of Islamic principles, “otherwise, they could not have prevented us.”
Tehran’s nuclear program, which has almost reached the threshold of weaponization, is quite controversial among Iranians, with many blaming the resulting sanctions for ruining the economy and impoverishing tens of millions of people.
Apparently, cognizant of the is fact, Khamenei said, “If you want a powerful Iran, all those who love Iran and the Islamic Republic, everyone who loves the nation and aspires for the power of this country, should regard this nuclear scientific, research and industrial effort as important.”
His use of nationalist slogans was clearly meant to garner some support among the population, with what is seen as a small minority of loyalists supporting the regime.
Iran’s nuclear program once again became a highly controversial international issue when former US President withdrew from the 2015 JCPOA accord, demanding a tougher agreement and a change of behavior by Iran that was fomenting trouble across the Middle East.
President Joe Biden quickly signaled his intention to return to the JCPOA, but Iran that had reacted relatively cautiously to Trump’s move, began to up the ante in December 2020, by passing a law to increase uranium enrichment first to 20 and then to 60-percent purity by early 2021.
Western officials and experts say that there is no justifiable civilian use for 60-percent enriched uranium. The only likely purpose is to purify uranium to 90 percent needed for assembling a bomb.
Negotiations that began in April of that year to revive the JCPOA came to an impasse in 2022, and Iran continued to accumulate enriched uranium. American officials believe that Tehran would be able to weaponize in just a few months if it decides to go nuclear.
In the light of recent reports about secret talks to reach some sort of a limited deal, whereby Iran would cap its uranium enrichment, Khamenei said, “It is possible that they [the West] would want to reach an agreement in some areas, but the nuclear infrastructure should not be affected.”
Iran has deployed thousands of advanced enrichment machines known as centrifuges in the past two years that can turn out enough 90-percent purified fissile material for a bomb in just two weeks. Even an agreement to freeze enrichment now, would leave Iran in the advantageous position of remaining at the nuclear threshold.
Any limited agreement, which the US has denied, would most likely leave these centrifuges in place.
Despite Washington’s denials there are signs of some steps signaling attempts to somewhat reduce the extent of disagreement.
Reports on Saturday indicated that the Biden administration has allowed Iraq to make available $2.7 billion of Iranian funds blocked in Iraqi banks due to US sanctions. This is so far the largest tranche of money Washington has allowed to be released, although it has been suspicious of Iranian machinations in Iraq to launder money.
Khamenei also reiterated his long-held position that the West and UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cannot be trusted.
Any negotiation or nuclear agreement should receive Khamenei’s approval, since he has the final say in all important political, military and economic issues, as the Supreme Leader.