A senior Iranian cleric urged Washington and Tehran on Friday to “join hands” to end sanctions, local media reported, underlining the support of Iran’s influential religious establishment for President Hassan Rowhani’s diplomatic offensive.
Rowhani made overtures to the West last week during a visit to the U.N. headquarters in New York and then spoke by telephone with U.S. President Barack Obama in the highest-level contact between the two countries since 1979.
The U.S. lead negotiator with Iran, Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, has held out the possibility of giving Iran some short-term sanctions relief in return for concrete steps to slow uranium enrichment and shed light on its nuclear program.
“We await practical measures by U.S. officials,” cleric Kazem Sedighi told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran, according to Iranian television.
“The presidents of Iran and the United States should join hands and end these cruel sanctions, which have not only harmed the Iranian nation but also the American and the European nations,” Sedighi said.
Iran’s parliament, controlled by political factions deeply loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also strongly endorsed Rowhani’s diplomatic drive on Wednesday, despite some rumblings from hardliners deeply suspicious of Washington.
Sedighi accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wanting to sabotage the rapprochement between Tehran and Washington and also cautioned that a U.S. refusal to remove the military option from the table was a sign of its “insincerity.”
The United States, Israel and other countries accuse Iran of using its nuclear programme as a veil for efforts to try to develop the capability to produce weapons. Iran says its programme is only for peaceful energy purposes.
Netanyahu, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly after Rowhani, dismissed the Iranian leader as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and said Israel was ready to stand alone to deny Tehran an atomic weapon.
Iranian negotiators are set to restart nuclear talks with world powers in mid-October and expect clear signs of relief from the sanctions in any deal to curb its atomic activities.