Last updated: 8 March, 2012

Iran’s Khamenei hails Obama caution on war

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday welcomed comments by US President Barack Obama damping down talk of war against Tehran over its controversial nuclear drive.

“This talk is good talk and shows an exit from illusion,” Khamenei’s website quoted the leader as telling clerics from the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member body which selects the supreme leader, supervises his activities and can dismiss him.

Obama on Tuesday said that Iran’s nuclear programme was not an immediate threat, arguing a “window” for diplomacy could forestall an Iranian bomb, while slamming Republican candidates for their hawkish statements demanding military action against the Islamic republic.

“But the US president continued saying that he wants to make the Iranian people kneel through sanctions, this part of this speech shows the continuation of illusion on this issue,” Khamenei added.

Obama stole some of the political limelight from Republican presidential hopefuls by holding his first White House news conference in five months as voters went to the polls in the 10-state primary bonanza dubbed Super Tuesday.

Obama slammed Republicans for “big talk” and “bluster” and failing to consider the costs of war with Iran.

His remarks came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could not wait “much longer” for diplomacy on Iran to work.

Western governments and Iran’s regional arch-rival Israel suspect that Tehran is seeking an atomic weapons capability under the guise of what it insists is a civilian nuclear programme.

The UN Security Council has slapped four sets of sanctions on Iran over its failure to heed repeated ultimatums to suspend uranium enrichment, the most controversial aspect of its nuclear programme.

The European Union and the United States have imposed further, unilateral sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s oil and financial sectors.

“The continuation of this illusion (that sanctions might deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme) will hurt the American officials and will lead their calculations to defeat,” Khamenei said.

His comments come as long-stalled talks between the major powers and Iran on its nuclear programme are poised to resume.

The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany called on Iran on Thursday to enter into a “serious dialogue” and “without pre-conditions.”

“We call on Iran to enter, without pre-conditions, into a sustained process of serious dialogue, which will produce concrete results,” a joint statement said.

They said their readiness to resume negotiations was “on the understanding that these talks will address the international community’s longstanding concerns and that there will be serious discussions on concrete confidence building measures.”

The P5+1’s negotiator, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, announced on Tuesday that the powers were ready to resume talks with Iran, but said the date and the venue still had to be agreed.

The last round of talks — in Istanbul in January 2011 — broke down over Iran’s insistence on discussing “preconditions” before beginning full-blown negotiations on the nuclear dispute, Western diplomats said.

On Wednesday, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, warned the new talks would fail too if the major powers resorted to “pressure”.

“They (the powers) should pay attention that if they want to continue pressure in the talks, it will achieve nothing,” Larijani said.