Iran’s Khamenei renews support for nuclear talks
Catherine Ashton (L) and Mohammad Javad Zarif smile at the start of talks in Vienna - REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

TEHRAN: Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated Wednesday his support for ongoing nuclear talks with world powers, while insisting that Tehran’s atomic program would carry on.

He spoke as negotiators for Iran and the so-called P5+1 group started a second day of talks in Vienna aimed at hammering out a final deal over Tehran’s contested nuclear program by a July 20 deadline.

Tehran had agreed to talks in order to “break the arrogant powers’ hostile atmosphere toward Iran,” and “talks should continue,” Khamenei said in remarks published on his website

“Despite the continuation of the negotiations, everyone should know that Iran’s activities in nuclear research and development, as well as its nuclear achievements, will never be stopped,” he added.

Khamenei said the country’s relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be “conventional and not extraordinary.”

The nuclear watchdog conducts regular inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities but also wants to investigate allegations that Iran conducted nuclear weapons research before 2003 and possibly since then.

Khamenei, the country’s top decision-maker, stressed that “Iran does not seek to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The Vienna talks are the third round of negotiations since a November interim deal that froze parts of Iran’s nuclear program in return for limited relief from international sanctions.

That preliminary accord, which came into effect in January, is to expire on July 20, by which time both sides hope to have in place a permanent agreement.

Hardliners have criticized President Hassan Rouhani’s moderate views on the talks, accusing the government of conceding too much in the nuclear deal.

But Rouhani has so far enjoyed the qualified support of Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

Khamenei has said nuclear talks with world powers would “lead nowhere” but that he did not oppose them.

Iran wants the crippling sanctions rolled back, while the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — wants Iran’s nuclear activities curbed to a point where any breakout towards atomic weapons would be delayed and easily identified.

Tehran denies it has any ambitions to develop nuclear arms, but the West says it has not been sufficiently transparent.

Both sides hope to start work on a draft agreement in the next round of talks in May.

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