Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday called Israel a “rabid dog” of the region bent on besmirching the Islamic Republic’s reputation. Speaking to a parliamentary committee in Tehran to show his support - and conditions - regarding negotiations on its nuclear program, Khamenei said that pressure from economic sanctions will never force the country into unwelcome concessions.
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Khamenei said that Tehran would not step back "one iota" from its nuclear rights and blasted U.S. government policies, including threats of military action, but said Iran has "no animosity'" toward the American people and seeks "friendly" relations.
The ayatollah also said he would not intervene directly in the talks in Geneva, though he had set "red lines" for his negotiators.
Meanwhile, Russia said Wednesday that it is hopeful a preliminary deal will emerge this week. "We hope the efforts that are being made will be crowned with success at the meeting that opens today in Geneva," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference on Wednesday.
According to Iran's supreme leader, French officials were "not only succumbing to the United States, but they are kneeling before the Israeli regime" and that Iran would "slap aggressors in the face in such a way they will never forget it" without mentioning any specific country.
Wednesday's message appeared tailored in part for Khamenei's hardline audience as he spoke to members of the paramilitary Basij force, which is controlled by the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
"We want to have friendly relations with all nations, even the United States," Khamenei said. "We are not hostile to the American nation. They are like other nations in the world," he added. In response, the militiamen chanted "Death to America."
Khamenei's remarks also reflect Iran's internal divisions over the nuclear talks and outreach to the United States by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who has the backing of Khamenei.
Talks resume later Wednesday in Geneva over a possible nuclear deal that could lift some sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.