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US ‘disturbed’ by Iranian leader’s criticism after deal

US Secretary of State John Kerry

The United States said on Tuesday it was very disturbed by anti-US hostility voiced by Iran’s top leader after a nuclear deal, as both countries’ top diplomats sought to calm opposition to the accord from political hardliners at home.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said a speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Saturday vowing to defy American policies in the region despite a deal with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear programme was “very troubling”.

“I don’t know how to interpret it at this point in time, except to take it at face value, that that’s his policy,” he said in the interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

“But I do know that often comments are made publicly and things can evolve that are different. If it is the policy, it’s very disturbing, it’s very troubling,” he added.

Ayatollah Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, told supporters on Saturday that US policies in the region were “180 degrees” opposed to Iran’s, in a Tehran speech punctuated by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.

Under the accord reached in Vienna last week, Iran will be subjected to long-term curbs on a nuclear programme that the West suspected was aimed at creating an atomic bomb but which Tehran says is peaceful. In return US, European Union and UN sanctions on Iran will be lifted. The deal was signed by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

It was a major policy achievement for both US President Barack Obama and Iran’s pragmatic elected President Hassan Rouhani. But both leaders have to sell it at home to powerful hardliners in countries that have been enemies for decades, referring to each other as the “Great Satan” and a member of the “Axis of Evil”.

In the case of Iran, the deal must win final approval from the National Security Council and ultimately Khamenei, who has so far withheld final judgement while saying the text must still be scrutinised.

In the United States, Republicans who control Congress have lined up against the deal, but Obama says he will veto any congressional objection.

Kerry also has the task of selling the agreement to sceptical US allies in the region. Israel is implacably opposed, and Sunni Muslim-ruled Arab allies of the United States, such as Saudi Arabia, are suspicious of an arrangement that would benefit their rival, Shi’ite, non-Arab Iran.

Kerry said the deal would improve regional security by preventing Iran from seeking atomic weapons.
“The agreement gets rid of the nuclear weapon potential. But if we do the right things… then I believe the Gulf states and the region can feel much more secure than they do today,” he said.

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