Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei turned down the US offer of one-on-one talks on its nuclear program Thursday, Feb. 7, just 24 hours after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that due to budgetary constraints, the US could only keep one, not two, US aircraft carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf, and had cancelled the departure of a second carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman.
The ayatollah in a speech posted on his web site accused the US of proposing talks while "pointing a gun at Iran.”
On Saturday, US Vice-President Joe Biden suggested direct talks – separate from the wider international discussions scheduled for Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. No previous negotiations in this format over the years have ever produced a breakthrough.
Biden said Washington was prepared for direct talks with Iran "when the Iranian leadership, supreme leader, is serious". "That offer stands,” he said later, “but it must be real and tangible and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise," he said.
But the ayatollah said such negotiations "would solve nothing.” He added: "You are holding a gun against Iran saying you want to talk. The Iranian nation will not be frightened by threats."
Wednesday, the US widened sanctions on Iran for tightening the squeeze on Tehran's ability to spend oil cash.
The cancellation of the Harry Truman’s departure for the Gulf leaves a single US aircraft carrier in the vast naval region of the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean and southern part of the Indian Ocean bordering on Africa, debkafile's military sources report, and no US fleet presence opposite Syria.
Khamenei’s rejection of Washington’s latest offer of direct talks followed the new US ban imposed Wednesday on the transfer of revenues from Iranian oil exports to its coffers. The money will henceforth be available only for the purchase of goods in the countries of destination for Iranian oil.
Senior American officials said that this sanction would significantly restrict Iran's freedom to use its oil income at will.
Khamenei did not say so specifically, but his rejection of dialogue with Washington was undoubtedly influenced by President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to Israel. By the metaphor of “holding a gun against Iran,” the Iranian leader was not just reacting to the new sanctions; he was also hitting back at the White House announcement’s stress that the president’s talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would focus on Iran and Syria – as debkafile reported Wednesday.
The expectation is that Obama and Netanyahu will confer on the military option both governments have reserved for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
Khamenei's rejection of face-to-face talks does not cancel the international negotiations scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan. It does, however, render them more pointless than ever.