TEHRAN — In his first remarks since the return of Iran’s delegation to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered guarded optimism about his country’s renewed diplomatic efforts, dispelling questions about whether or not he opposes the attempts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve ties with Western governments.
“We support the diplomatic approach of the government and consider diplomatic efforts as important and support what happened in the latest trip,” Khamenei said on Saturday at a graduation ceremony of Iran’s Air Force academy.
Khamenei lauded the efforts of Rouhani but reiterated his skepticism about possible negotiations with Washington, stopping short of endorsing rapprochement with his state’s longtime foe, the United States.
“We are pessimistic about Americans and have no trust in them. The American government is untrustworthy, disloyal, considers itself superior and breaks its promises,” Khamenei said.
The speech offered a glimpse at the difficult path ahead for Iran and the United States if they are to mend relations and begin direct negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the ongoing crisis in Syria, and other regional issues that concern both Washington and Tehran.
In both capitals the minor breakthrough was met with excitement, but also some criticism.
On Friday, Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, “deception is part of the DNA,” referring to Iranian officials.
But Sherman made the comment as she was asking Congress to delay to sanctions on Iran until after the next round of negotiations between Iran and world powers in Geneva later this month, a sign that the Obama administration, like Tehran, would like to reduce the number of obstacles to achieving a nuclear deal.
Khamenei’s words on Saturday echoed Sherman’s skeptical endorsement of beginning a dialogue that could signal an end to one of the world’s longest and most bitter international feuds since the Cold War.
“Of course I do not approve of some of what happened in New York, but I am optimistic about the diplomacy of our esteemed government,” Khamenei said.
His disapproval is likely a reference to a last-minute phone call between Rouhani and President Obama as Rouhani was headed to the airport for his return flight to Tehran. That call, which Obama initiated, is already being hailed as a historic moment after more than 34 years of no contact between the leaders of the two countries.
The call was the culmination of a diplomatic outreach effort by Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran’s delegation made numerous media appearances while in New York, attempting to erase the negative impression Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left in the minds of Americans both in and out of government. Ahmadinejad used his General Assembly appearances to question the Holocaust and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.