Iran to back Palestinians ‘in any way we can’: Khamenei


Iran's supreme leader said on Wednesday that Iran would support the Palestinian uprising against Israel “in any way we can”, and rejected U.S. accusations that a recent wave of Palestinian knife and car-ramming attacks amounted to “terrorism”.

Khamenei was speaking a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, described the spate of attacks as “terrorism” that should be condemned.

Israel and the United States have long accused Iran of supplying arms to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, considered by Washington as a terrorist organization. Tehran says it gives only moral, financial and humanitarian support.

“Despite all the efforts of the Arrogance (the United States) … and even with cooperation from Arab countries, the Palestinian intifada (uprising) has started in the West Bank,” state television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.

“We will defend the movement of the Palestinian people with all of our existence, and in any way and as long as we can,” Khamenei reportedly told a gathering of the Basij, Iran's volunteer militia.

Khamenei criticized those who call Palestinians “terrorists” saying they were people protesting the occupation of their land.

Since Oct. 1, at least 86 Palestinians have been killed, some while carrying out lethal attacks on Israelis and others in clashes with Israeli forces. At least 19 Israelis and an American have been killed in Palestinian attacks.

The bloodshed has been fueled by Muslim agitation over increased Jewish visits to East Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound – Islam's third holiest place which is also revered by Jews as the site of two biblical-era temples.

The Palestinians are also frustrated by the failure of decades of peace talks to deliver them an independent state.

Nuclear enrichment among Iran’s ‘inalienable rights,’ new president says


Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rohani said he would strive for transparency in his country’s nuclear program but would not stop enriching uranium.

Rohani, in his first news conference following his upset victory over the weekend, also said he wants to reduce tension with the United States but would not talk directly with U.S. leaders until economic sanctions were lifted, The New York Times reported.

He said his government would continue to protect the country’s “inalienable rights,” including Iran’s nuclear rights.

“First, we are ready to increase transparency and clarify our measures within the international framework,” Rohani said during the news conference. “Of course our activities are already transparent, but still we increase it. Second, we will increase the trust between Iran and the world.”

In 1994, when he served as a nuclear negotiator, Rohani agreed to suspend nuclear enrichment as a trust-building measure. He called 2013 ” a different situation.”

Rohani will take office on Aug. 3.

Iran says its nuclear program is for domestic use only; the western world believes the program is leading to a nuclear weapon.

[Iran’s president-elect Rohani:
More of the same or a bridge to the West?]

Iran’s new president still Khamenei-approved, Netanyahu says


The election of cleric Hassan Rohani as president of Iran does not change anything, since he was shortlisted by the country’s radical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Candidates who did not conform to Khamenei’s extremist outlook were not able to run for the presidency, Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, a day after Rohani’s election.

Netanyahu pointed out that “among those whose candidacies he allowed was elected the candidate who was seen as less identified with the regime, who still defines the State of Israel as ‘the great Zionist Satan.’ ”

It is Khamenei who ultimately determines Iran’s nuclear policy, the Israeli leader said.

“Iran will be judged by its actions,” Netanyahu said. “If it continues to insist on developing its nuclear program, the answer needs to be very clear — stopping the nuclear program by any means.”

Rohani, who is seen as much more moderate than the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will take office in August after receiving slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. Some 72 percent of the 50 million eligible voters turned out.

The combative Ahmadinejad was barred from running for reelection due to term limits.

“This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness, and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill temper,” Rohani said Saturday on state television.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “Iran must abide by the demands of the international community to stop its nuclear program and cease the dissemination of terror throughout the world.”

In its statement on Saturday, the White House congratulated the Iranian people for participating in the political process and “their courage in making their voices heard.” The statement said it respected their vote.

“It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians,” the White House said.

On Sunday, the British newspaper The Independent reported that Iran will  send 4,000 Revolutionary Guard troops to Syria to aid President Bashar Assad against rebel forces in his country’s two-year civil war. The decision reportedly was made before the start of the presidential election.

Iran also proposed opening up what it called a “Syrian front” against Israel in the Golan Heights, according to the Independent.

Ayatollah Khamenei: Iran will destroy Israeli cities If attacked


Iran's clerical supreme leader said on Thursday the Islamic Republic would destroy the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa if it came under attack from the Jewish state.

“At times the officials of the Zionist regime (Israel) threaten to launch a military invasion but they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an address to mark the Iranian new year.

Israel has threatened military action against Iran unless it abandons nuclear activities which the West suspects are intended to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this, saying it wants nuclear energy only for civilian purposes.

In his televised speech, Khamenei said Iran's struggles over the past year against international sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program resembled a battle and that its enemies had confessed to trying to “cripple the Iranian nation”.

“What happened last year, we need to learn a lesson,” he said, alluding to what he described as Iran's significant scientific and military advances. “This vibrant nation will never be brought to its knees.”

Khamenei also called for Iran's “natural right” to enrich uranium for nuclear energy to be recognized by the world. Western powers have refused, saying Iran has hidden nuclear work from U.N. inspectors and stonewalled their investigations.

Talks between Iran and six world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – are to resume early next month in a further attempt to strike a deal on Iranian nuclear aspirations.

But Khamenei was cool to a U.S. suggestion of direct talks between the two countries, which severed diplomatic relations after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“I am not optimistic about these talks. Why? Because our past experiences show that talks for the American officials do not mean for us to sit down and reach a logical solution … What they mean by talks is that we sit down and talk until Iran accepts their viewpoint,” he said.

“Iran only wants its enrichment right, which is its natural right, to be recognized by the world.”

Reporting By Zahra Hosseinian and Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Khamenei dismisses sanctions, says Iran stronger than ever


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday dismissed harsher sanctions imposed on Iran this month over its disputed nuclear activity, saying the country was “100 times stronger” than before.

A European Union embargo on Iranian crude oil took full effect on July 1 – a joint effort with the United States to force Tehran to curb nuclear energy work the Western powers say is a camouflaged bid to develop bombs, which Tehran denies.

Prices of goods have soared and the Iranian rial has plunged in value as broader, deeper sanctions have been introduced this year targeting Iran’s financial and energy sectors.

“The Iranian nation, through life, wealth and loved ones, has stood up to all plots and sanctions and has advanced to the extent that today we are 100 times stronger compared with 30 years ago,” Khamenei told a women’s conference in Tehran in a speech that was published on his official website.

“These days Westerners are being sensational about sanctions but they don’t understand that they themselves vaccinated Iran through their sanctions imposed over the last 30 years,” he said. Iran’s Islamic Revolution a little over three decades ago toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

Iranian officials regularly shrug off sanctions, saying they have little or no effect on the country. But a combination of increasing unemployment, substantial price rises and rampant inflation is creating tough new challenges for the government.

Industry sources say Iran’s oil exports have declined in the wake of the EU crude ban and extensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to get Iran’s main customers to cut their imports.

The United States imposed sanctions in 1979, soon after the Islamic Revolution that overthrew its monarchy. Successive U.S. administrations have added to the embargo, effectively creating a near total ban on any trade between it and Iran.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of international sanctions specifically targeting Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy purposes only.

Six world powers and Iran have had several rounds of negotiations on how to defuse concerns over its nuclear ambitions this year but found no common ground for a deal.

Senior diplomats from the EU and Iran will meet on July 24 for technical talks to try to salvage diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-long standoff.

Reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran threatens retaliation over oil embargo


Iran’s supreme leader threatened on Friday to retaliate against the West for sanctions, a day after a U.S. newspaper said defense secretary Leon Panetta believed Israel was likely to bomb Iran within months to stop it building a nuclear bomb.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s defiant televised speech marking the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution was the first time the top authority has spoken publicly about the impact of the new sanctions, which have strangled the Iranian economy since the start of the year.

The long-simmering confrontation between the West and Iran over its nuclear program entered a decisive phase last month. Iran began enriching uranium at a deep underground bunker and the United States and Europe imposed new sanctions to prevent Tehran selling oil, putting its economy in a downward spiral.

Iran holds a parliamentary election in a month – its first since a 2009 presidential vote triggered a failed popular uprising – and its tightly-controlled political system will have to cope with the economic hardship caused by sanctions.

“In response to threats of oil embargo and war, we have our own threats to impose at the right time,” Khamenei told worshippers in his televised speech.

“Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course,” he said.

“Such sanctions will benefit us. They will make us more self-reliant … We would not achieve military progress if sanctions were not imposed on Iran’s military sector.”

Behind the sanctions looms an underlying threat of war. Panetta said he would not comment on – but did not dispute – a report by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that Panetta thinks Israel is likely to attack Iran in the next few months.

Ignatius travelled with Panetta to Brussels this week. His column on Thursday was the strongest suggestion yet that Washington policymakers were bracing for an Israeli attack.

“Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June – before Iran enters what Israelis described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb,” columnist David Ignatius wrote.

“Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon – and only the United States could then stop them militarily,” Ignatius wrote.

Panetta told reporters: “David Ignatius can write what he will but – with regards to what I think and what I view – I consider that an area that belongs to me and nobody else.”

Asked if he disputed the story, he said: “No … I’m just not commenting.”

Three U.S. national security officials told Reuters on Friday Washington had no specific intelligence that an Israeli attack on Iran was imminent, but they were concerned because of recent public statements by Israeli officials. The U.S. officials also said they believed Israel would not warn Washington in advance if it planned to strike.

Washington, which like Israel has not ruled out an attack on Iran to stop it from developing an atomic bomb, has made clear it believes sanctions should be given a chance to work before a military strike is considered. U.S. officials have repeatedly tried to persuade Israel to hold fire.

SANCTIONS PAIN

Obama signed new sanctions into law on New Year’s Eve that would block any institution dealing with Iran’s central bank from the U.S. financial system. The European Union announced similar measures last week.

The sanctions, if fully implemented, would make it impossible for countries to buy Iranian oil. To prevent havoc on energy markets, Washington is offering waivers to countries if they cut their trade with Iran gradually.

There are signs that other imports are also being affected, with ships bringing grain sailing away from Iranian ports because they have not received payment for their cargo.

A leading agricultural consultancy said on Friday Ukraine had cut its exports of corn to Iran by 40 percent last month because EU sanctions were preventing firms from getting paid.

The sanctions are causing real hardship for Iranians with just four weeks to go before the parliamentary election.

The last time Iranians voted three years ago, a disputed result led to eight months of violent street protests, by far the worst unrest the country has seen since the 1979 revolution that installed rule by Shi’ite clerics.

The authorities put down that revolt with force, but in the past year the “Arab Spring” has shown the vulnerability of governments in the region to public outrage fuelled by anger over economic hardship.

“Prices are going up every day, life is expensive. I buy chicken or meat once per month. I used to buy it twice per week,” said vegetable seller Hasan Sharafi, 43, father of four, in the central city of Isfahan.

“Sometimes I want to kill myself. I feel desperate. I do not earn enough to feed my children.”

It remains to be seen how tightly Iran will be squeezed by the new sanctions. The EU, which collectively bought about a fifth of Iran’s oil last year, is halting all purchases.

Iran is scrambling to find new buyers and persuade its existing customers to keep doing business with it. Major Iranian oil customers are seeking waivers from Washington from the sanctions, while also looking for alternative suppliers.

Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, has promised to make up any shortfall in supply.

China, which bought about a fifth of Iran’s crude last year, has denounced the sanctions, but has also cut its purchases of Iranian oil by half in January and February this year and is seeking deep discounts for the oil it continues to buy.

An article in the People’s Daily on Friday said tension between Tehran “is disturbing global energy markets and has case a shadow over the global economic recovery.”

Additional reporting by David Alexander in Brussels, Mark Hosenball in London and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Writing by Peter Graff; editing by Elizabeth Piper