TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader expressed support on Saturday for the recent diplomatic outreach to the West by President Hasan Rouhani and his aides, but criticized some actions by the president as “inappropriate.”
Although the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not specify which acts he meant, a political strategist close to Iran’s highest leadership said the ayatollah was criticizing Rouhani for taking a phone call from President Obama after a trip to the United Nations.
The phone call — the first contact between US and Iranian presidents in more than 30 years — was seen by some in the West as a promising sign that Iran might be willing to make compromises on its nuclear program in order to get crippling sanctions lifted.
During the call, the two presidents agreed to accelerate talks aimed at defusing the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
The political strategist, Amir Mohebbian, said that “clearly Ayatollah Khamenei now joins some in Iran who said the phone call between both presidents has been too soon.”
Analysts had been waiting for Khamenei to take a position on the trip after powerful commanders of the hard-line Revolutionary Guards said publicly that Rouhani should not have taken the call from Obama.
Although it is always difficult to interpret Iranian leaders’ ambiguous remarks, it appeared that the criticism was directed at the phone call and was not a warning to slow the country’s diplomatic outreach.
“The animosity between both nations runs very deep,” Mohebbian said. “First we need to see more action and positive signals from the United States, before we can have interaction at that level.”
The ayatollah himself, speaking to students at an military aeronautical university in Tehran, appeared to support most of Rouhani’s actions at the United Nations, where the president talked about wanting better relations with the world.
“We are optimistic about our dear government’s diplomatic envoy,” read a message posted on Khamenei’s Twitter page, “but pessimistic about the Americans.” The Twitter page was quoting the speech at the university.
Khamenei has the final word on any potential agreement between Iran and the United States over the country’s nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes and the West believes is a cover for weapons development.
As Rouhani has expressed more openness toward the West, the ayatollah has been taking a middle road between Iran’s hard-liners, who are against any concessions to the United States, and the government, which says some compromise may be necessary to have the international sanctions against Iran lifted.
Rouhani’s convoy was pelted with eggs and a shoe by hard-line activists when the president returned to Tehran last Saturday. While two arrests were made, representatives of the group that was protesting, which calls itself the Committee to Protect Iranian Interests, were allowed to give an official news conference Sunday, where they warned Rouhani “not to make mistakes.”
Iran has reacted sharply to some of the comments made by Obama after Rouhani’s trip to the United Nations. Obama reassured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a visit to Washington last week that the United States would continue to pressure Iran, to ensure that it would not make a nuclear weapon.
“We take no options off the table, including military options,” Obama said.
In an apparent reaction to those remarks, Khamenei repeated earlier warnings, saying that the Obama administration was “not trustworthy, sees itself as better than others and easily breaks its promises.” Khamenei also said the Obama administration was under the control of “a network of international Zionists.”
“If the Obama administration wants to send reassuring literature to our enemies, they must do the same to us,” Mohebbian said. “It is clear Mr. Obama is influenced by radicals in Congress and Israel.”