WASHINGTON -- Although nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili is favored to win the upcoming presidential election in Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Friday that the outcome would have little effect on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and wouldn’t alter the Obama administration’s search for a diplomatic solution.
Kerry noted that Iran’s nuclear program is not controlled by the president, but by the country’s most powerful figure, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I do not have high expectations that the election is going to change the fundamental calculus of Iran,” Kerry told reporters during a joint appearance at the State Department with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “The supreme leader will ultimately make that decision.”
He said the United States would “continue to pursue every effort to have a peaceful resolution” of the dispute.
Western analysts consider Jalili a hard-liner who has so far refused to give ground on international demands that Tehran curb uranium enrichment. He is widely seen as the front-runner over other candidates who might be willing to limit the nuclear effort in hope of easing international economic sanctions on Iran.
The Obama administration and other governments are expected to propose another diplomatic deal to Tehran after the June 14 election. Some analysts said its composition could depend on whether they are still dealing with Jalili, who has led recent negotiations, or with a figure seen as more flexible.
Kerry’s comments suggested the administration believed the outcome would be irrelevant. U.S. officials are determined to stop Iran from developing the capability to build a nuclear bomb. Iran has long contended its nuclear program is only for energy and other peaceful purposes.
On another subject, Kerry again warned Russia not to sell advanced antiaircraft missiles to Syria. But he expressed confidence that Moscow was committed to negotiating a peace deal to install a new government in Damascus and end Syria’s 2-year-old civil war.
A Russian sale of sophisticated S-300 antimissile systems to President Bashar Assad’s forces would have a “profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region, and it does put Israel at risk,” Kerry said.
He said that if a peace conference on Syria is convened in Geneva as planned, possibly in mid-June, “we will learn very quickly whether [the Russians] and others are acting in good faith to negotiate a settlement.” But he added that he was convinced that President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials want such a deal.
Westerwelle, whose government is influential with Moscow because of German’s trade ties, said Berlin also has leaned on the Kremlin.
“We tell our Russian colleagues, ‘Don’t endanger this conference in Geneva,’” Westerwelle said. “The delivery of weapons to the Assad regime is absolutely wrong.”
It was widely reported Thursday that Assad had boasted he was receiving S-300 components. But those reports proved inaccurate, and several Russian news organizations reported Friday it would take many months, and perhaps a year, for the antimissile systems to be sent.
The S-300 systems, which are designed to shoot down multiple warplanes more than 100 miles away, would make it far riskier for Western powers to impose a “no-fly” zone to protect rebel fighters and civilians in Syria.
Israeli officials don’t want the antimissile system in Syria or in the hands of Assad’s Lebanese ally, the militant group Hezbollah. Israel has threatened to destroy any shipment.
The Kremlin may prefer to threaten to deliver the S-300 to deter the West from arming Assad’s enemies, but not actually send them and risk a widening of the Syrian conflict, analysts said.