Khamenei rejects direct talks with US


Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected any idea of bilateral talks with the United States on Thursday in a speech in which he scoffed at Iranian officials who might consider such negotiations.

A staunch ideologue who has often rejected dialogue with America, Ayatollah Khamenei was apparently responding to a US offer of one-on-one negotiations between the two countries on a range of topics, including Iran's disputed nuclear programme, a suggestion that Vice-President Joseph Biden reinforced last week during a security conference in Munich. The Iranian foreign minister said then he was open to such talks, although Biden noted they could proceed only if the ayatollah showed serious interest.

The ayatollah's objection is an edict to which other Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must adhere, and it comes after several high-ranking Iranian officials, including Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, had said the Obama administration had been taking positive steps toward Iran.

Ayatollah Khamenei was straightforward in his speech on Thursday before air force commanders in his Tehran office, which was reported on his personal website.

He said while some "simple-minded people" might be happy about the prospect of bilateral talks, Iran had seen nothing from Washington other than same conspiracies.

"The Iranian nation will not negotiate under pressure," he said. Noting the international sanctions against Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei said: "The US is pointing a gun at Iran and wants us to talk to them. The Iranian nation will not be intimidated by these actions."

"Direct talks will not solve any problems," he added.

His remarks came after new restrictions were imposed on payments for Iranian oil on Wednesday, a move that increased economic pressure on Iran, and as Iranian and Western officials said Iran had agreed to resume multilateral nuclear talks with world powers in Kazakhstan. The ayatollah's rejection of talks with the US will not affect the Kazakhstan talks, set to begin February 26.

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