In a televised address to military commanders Sunday, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, toughened rhetoric ahead of resumption of nuclear negotiations with the international powers this week, saying that the U.S. created the "myth" of nuclear weapons to portray Iran as a "source of threat."
Although Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has supported the nuclear talks, he expressed distrust of U.S. intentions, urging Iranian military commanders to be ready to repel external aggression, according to Reuters.
RT reports that the comments from the Iranian Supreme Leader were in response to the recent statement by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, that delivery of Russian S-300 advanced air defense systems to Iran would not stop the U.S. military from hitting Iran nuclear facilities if the need arises.
"They created the myth of nuclear weapons so they could say the Islamic Republic is a source of threat. No, the source of threat is America itself, with its unrestrained, destabilizing interventions... They threaten Iran and want us to have no capabilities for defense. The US threatens in the most shameless way to deliver a strike against Iran. That is why, we must be prepared for defense in any case."Just as President Barack Obama faces opposition from Republican hardliners on the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, Iranian leaders engaged in the nuclear negotiations with six international powers also face pressure from Iranian hardliners opposed to Iran making significant concessions over its nuclear program, a source of national pride.
However, Reuters notes that analysts are not interpreting Khamenei's latest comments as indicating withdrawal of support for Iran's participation in nuclear talks, scheduled to resume in Vienna this week, despite the fact that he criticized U.S. support for the Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen against Houthi rebels allied with Tehran.
The rebels recently captured the country's capital, Sanaa, achieved significant military gains in the country, and dissolved the country's parliament.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen could lead to further widening of the gulf between Iran and the Western allies, and have a negative impact on the mood during the upcoming talks in Venice.
The West believes that the Iranians are arming the rebels.
Iran is currently engaged in negotiations with six world powers, including the U.S., over its nuclear program. The parties reached a partial accord this month and negotiators on both sides hope to forge a final deal by the end of June after talks resume this week.
The goal of the talks is to reach a deal that blocks all paths to Iran building a bomb in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions against Tehran. But a major issue that has arisen is the question when the international sanctions against Iran will be lifted after a final deal is reached.
Khamenei recently raised the issue, expressing distrust of the U.S. and insisting that the Western allies must lift sanctions as soon as a deal is reached. He insisted that Iran could not reach a binding deal on its nuclear program without an agreement to immediately lift sanctions.
But the U.S government has rejected the demand as untenable.
According to Reuters, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) said on Sunday that any move to lift sanctions after a deal would be implemented in phases to ensure that sanctions are not lifted ahead of confirmation of Iran's full compliance with the terms of the deal.
GOP 2016 presidential hopeful, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), also expressed dissatisfaction with the emerging deal, commenting during CBS's Face the Nation that it leaves too much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure intact.
He argued that sanctions backed by threat of military action must remain in place to put pressure on the Iranian regime to comply with the demands of the Western allies.
"We don't want that [military action] to happen, but risk of a nuclear Iran is so great that option must be on the table."Meanwhile, Iran's official IRNA quoted the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), General Hossein Salami, responding to the statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, that a final nuclear deal must include inspections of Iranian military sites, saying that the demand was unacceptable and a "national humiliation."
In the statement made during an address on state television, Salami said that agreeing to the demand would be like rolling out "a red carpet for the enemy" and then any inspection risks exposing the country's "military and defense secrets."
"This subject is treasonous and selling out the country, and if anyone speaks of it we will respond with hot lead."[Image: Wikimedia Commons/www.Kremlin.ru]