Iran’s Khamenei backs ‘good’ nuclear compromise

The paramount leader rejects West’s excessive demands

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Iran’s paramount leader said on Sunday he backed a fair nuclear deal with world powers in which neither side would necessarily get everything it wanted, shoring up Tehran's negotiating team against attacks by his hardline loyalists.

“I would go along with any agreement that could be made. Of course, I am not for a bad deal. No agreement is better than an agreement which runs contrary to our nation’s interests,” clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement issued by his office carried by ISNA news agency.

Conservative hardliners in Tehran’s multi-tiered power structure remain wary of striking any compromise with the West under pragmatist President Hassan Rowhani’s push for a nuclear deal and to re-engage Iran with the outside world.

“The Iranian nation will not accept any excessive demands and illogical behavior,” Khamenei said, in remarks apparently meant to keep hardliners - who are prominent in parliament, the clergy and security services - on side.

But in a gesture to Rowhani, who revived diplomacy with Western powers soon after his 2013 landslide election, Khamenei said: “The respected president mentioned something good, which is, ‘Negotiations are all about trying to reach a common stand.’

“This means that one side would not end up getting all it wants,” said Khamenei, in office since 1989 and long known for rejectionist stances against detente with the West.

The West suspects Iran of covertly seeking a nuclear weapons capability instead of, as the major oil producer maintains, an alternative civilian energy source through its enrichment of uranium. Iran denies having any nuclear arms agenda.

A comprehensive nuclear deal is seen as crucial to reducing the risk of a wider Middle East war, at a time when Iran is deeply involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq. After nearly a year of talks, negotiators failed for the second time in November to meet a self-imposed deadline for an agreement.

The negotiations between Iran and the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - have a deadline of June 30 for a final agreement that would curb Iran’s disputed nuclear activity in return for a phased lifting of sanctions imposed on Tehran.

The two sides remain far apart on central issues including permissible enrichment capacity in Iran, the length of any final settlement and the pace at which financial sanctions imposed over Tehran’s suspected atom bomb ambitions would be dismantled.

“Our (nuclear) negotiators are trying to take the weapon of sanctions away from the enemy. If they can, so much the better. If they fail, everyone should know there are many ways at our disposal to dull this weapon,” said Khamenei.

Khamenei, who holds the highest office in the Islamic Republic with powers to overrule laws, is skeptical about the value of negotiations. But he has also repeatedly endorsed Rowhani’s path towards ending the economically crippling nuclear stand-off against harsh criticism from hardliners.