Iran's supreme leader issued some of his toughest statements yet on international negotiations over his country's nuclear ambitions, declaring Wednesday that talking to the Americans was "useless" and that nothing positive could come of it.
Speaking to Foreign Ministry officials, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Iranian negotiators who have conducted the talks with the United States and five other world powers, and he did not call for abandoning them. But he appeared to give succor to Iranian hard-liners who are adamantly opposed to discussions that could lead to a scaling back of Iran's nuclear program, which they insist is intended for peaceful purposes only.
The remarks came two days after President Hassan Rouhani stirred controversy in Iran by calling opponents of the talks "cowards" and telling them to go to hell. Rouhani, considered a moderate, has been pushing for an agreement that would end the crippling economic sanctions against Iran. Khamenei has consistently been far more skeptical about the talks.
The cleric's remarks Wednesday echoed those he made about the negotiations in February, when he was quoted as saying, "I'm not optimistic about the nuclear talks but not opposed to them either." They would "lead nowhere," he predicted then.
His comments Wednesday seemed to be a replay of those statements, but with a strong emphasis on the futility of any diplomacy with the United States, Iran's longtime foe. The talks also include representatives of China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.
Addressing the same audience of Iranian diplomats who listened to Rouhani on Monday, Khamenei complained that over the last year, the "Americans' tone became tougher and more insulting and they raised more demanding expectations."
He said that the Iranian negotiators, led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded "with stronger, firmer" positions, but "it became clear that, contrary to some people's wishful thinking, negotiation does not help at all."
Though some sanctions have been temporarily relaxed over the course of the talks, Khamenei insisted they had actually been increased.
"Of course we do not prohibit continuation of the nuclear negotiations, and what Dr. Zarif and his colleagues have started and well pursued will continue, but it was another valuable experience for everyone to know that being in touch with Americans and talking to them is useless and has absolutely no effect on decreasing their enmity," he said.