Saturday 3 December 2016

Ayatollah casts doubt on US deal as Yemen crisis hots up

Colin Freeman in London

Published 10/04/2015 | 02:30

A man reacts at the site of an airstrike in Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition air strike hit an office of Yemen's Houthi rebels near the pro-Houthi television channel al-Maseera in central Sanaa on Wednesday, witnesses said. Photo: Reuters
A man reacts at the site of an airstrike in Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition air strike hit an office of Yemen's Houthi rebels near the pro-Houthi television channel al-Maseera in central Sanaa on Wednesday, witnesses said. Photo: Reuters
A Yemeni man drives his damaged car after a Saudi-led airstrike on Sanaa, Yemen. Photo: AP
A boy transports containers of water at a private well as people store water, amid shortage of clean drinking water, in Sanaa. Photo: Reuters
Smoke billows from a Saudi-led airstrike on Sanaa, Yemen. A state-run broadcaster in Iran is reporting that the Islamic Republic has sent a navy destroyer and another vessel to waters near Yemen amid a Saudi-led airstrike campaign. Photo: AP
People react at the site of an airstrike in Sanaa. Photo: Reuters
A man reacts at the site of an air strike in Sanaa. Photo: Reuters

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that there were "no guarantees" that a deal on Iran's nuclear programme will be agreed, in his first comments since the interim deal was reached last week in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

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The Ayatollah, the most powerful figure in Iran, repeated demands that all sanctions be lifted at the same time as any final agreement on curbing Tehran's nuclear programme is concluded.

Downbeat "What has been achieved so far does not guarantee a deal or even that the negotiations will continue to the end," he said. In remarks apparently meant to keep his hardline loyalists on side, he warned about the "devilish" intentions of the United States.

"I was never optimistic about negotiating with America. Nonetheless, I agreed to the negotiations and supported, and still support, the negotiators," he added in a speech yesterday, to chants of "Death to America". "I support a deal that preserves the interests and honour of Iran."

His stand on the lifting of sanctions matched earlier comments by President Hassan Rouhani, who said Iran would only sign a final nuclear accord if all measures imposed over its disputed atomic work are lifted on the same day.

Mr Khamenei also called on Saudi Arabia to cease airstrikes targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen, calling the campaign "genocide" against the Yemeni people.

He compared the actions of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to the "crimes" that Israel committed in its war last year in the Gaza Strip. "The Saudis will, for sure, be harmed by this and get their nose rubbed in the dust," he said.

His remarks raised the rhetoric at the end of two weeks of strikes by a coalition of 10 Sunni-led nations assembled by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and its allies say Iran has trained and armed Yemen's Shiite Houthi rebels, and is seeking to expand the Islamic Republic's influence in the Middle East.

Saudi and Gulf Arab officials have said the aim of the military campaign is to restore the rule of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi and force the Houthis to resume talks. They have refused to rule out the deployment of ground troops.

Yemen, though poor, has strategic significance. Roughly 4pc of global oil shipments pass its shores each day, via the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Mr Khamenei dismissed claims of Iranian meddling in Yemen. "They don't see their own actions as interference and instead they accuse Iran," he said.

Speaking earlier in an interview with 'PBS NewsHour' in Washington, US secretary of state John Kerry said the US had traced Iranian "flights every single week that have been flying in" to Yemen.

"Iran needs to recognise that the United States is not going to stand by while the region is destabilised," Kerry said, adding that negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear programme won't cause the US "to step away from our alliances."

While Iran and Saudi Arabia have often been on opposing sides in the region's conflicts and political disputes, Mr Khamenei said Iran has always considered the Saudis to have shown "composure" in foreign policy.

Inexperience

"A few inexperienced young people have taken matters of that country in their hands," he said.

"And they favour a savage approach to composure and this, for sure, won't be to their benefit."

Washington, which is backing the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence and logistical aid, will also be harmed by its involvement, the Ayatollah said.

Since King Salman ascended the Saudi throne in January, security and foreign policy has been run by two relatively young princes, interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and the king's son, defence minister Mohammed bin Salman. Iran despatched a warship towards the southern coastal city of Aden on Wednesday .

Iranian state television said a destroyer and a back-up vessel were headed towards the Gulf of Aden area, close to the ancient port city that has been rocked by heavy fighting in recent days between local Sunni gunmen and Shia Houthi rebels. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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