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Iran’s Supreme Leader Issues New Demands as Deadline Looms

With just a week to go before the final deadline, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday issued a new set of demands to world powers negotiating a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iranian women hold posters of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei durring a rally in Tehran's Azadi Square (Freedom Square) to mark the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11, 2015. Iranians gathered in cities and villages all over the country to mark the 36th anniversary of the revolution which transformed the country from a US-backed monarchy into a cleric-ruled republic. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE        (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian women hold posters of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei durring a rally in Tehran's Azadi Square (Freedom Square) to mark the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11, 2015. Iranians gathered in cities and villages all over the country to mark the 36th anniversary of the revolution which transformed the country from a US-backed monarchy into a cleric-ruled republic. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Here we go again.

With just a week to go before the final deadline, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday issued a new set of demands to world powers negotiating a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Like the previous instances, in which Khamenei attracted attention with his hard-bargaining “red lines,” the new demands are far outside the realm of what the West would offer the Islamic Republic in the current negotiations.

Unlike previous instances, these demands come days away from the June 30 deadline, prompting questions about whether the Iranian leader is going to blow up a deal at the last minute or is merely engaging in theatrics — a time-honored tradition during the talks.

In his televised speech on Tuesday, Khamenei said sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic should be lifted immediately after a deal is signed. He also ruled out freezing Iran’s controversial nuclear work for an extended period of time.

“Freezing Iran’s research and development for a long time, like 10 or 12 years, is not acceptable,” Khamenei said, according to Iranian TV. “All financial and economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. Congress, or the U.S. government should be lifted immediately when we sign a nuclear agreement.”

The United States and its negotiating partners — Britain, France, China, Germany, and Russia — insist that Iran commit to restrictions on its program for at least 10 years on sophisticated nuclear work. The United States has also insisted that sanctions be lifted gradually as Iran comes into compliance with the deal, not all at once.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ayatollah’s speech.

In an email to Foreign Policy, a senior administration official said the United States would not cave on access and transparency issues. “All parties to the negotiation are well-aware of what is necessary for a final deal, including the access and transparency that will meet our bottom lines. We won’t agree to a deal without that,” said the official. “We expect that there will be many voices and opinions on the difficult issues as we work towards a final deal in the days ahead, but our team is focused on what is happening in the negotiating room.”

Previously, the White House has downplayed Khamenei’s public demands and chided lawmakers who cited the leader’s words as evidence that a deal with Iran was hopeless.

This occurred back in April, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cited Khamenei’s refusal to accept an intrusive inspections regime. “It is the Supreme Leader, not Iran’s president or foreign minister, who really calls the shots in Tehran,” McCain said then. “So for him to say, as he did today, that Iran will not permit inspections of its nuclear facilities anytime, anywhere — and that sanctions relief must be complete and immediate — would appear to be a major setback.”

At the time, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to the Republican hawk in a tweet. “Naïve and reckless for @SenJohnMcCain to believe every word of the Supreme Leader’s political speech. He shouldn’t.”

While it’s difficult to say exactly who’s bluffing and who’s playing it straight, the results should be apparent soon enough. If nothing else, the June 30 deadline will force each side to reveal their cards — once and for all.

Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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