Khamenei tells Iran's hardliners not to undermine nuclear talks


* Supreme leader backs president's push for negotiations

* Says talking does not mean compromising

* Talks with world powers resume in Geneva on Thursday

By Yeganeh Torbati

DUBAI, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader gave strongbacking on Sunday to his president's push for nuclearnegotiations, warning hardliners not to accuse Hassan Rouhani ofcompromising with the old enemy America.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments will help shield Rouhani,who has sought to thaw relations with the West since hissurprise election in June, from accusations of being soft on theUnited States, often characterised in the Islamic Republic asthe "Great Satan".

Iran will resume negotiations with six world powers,including the United States, in Geneva on Thursday, talks aimedat ending a standoff over its nuclear work that Tehran denies isweapons-related.

Rouhani hopes a deal there will mean an end to sanctionsthat have cut the OPEC country's oil exports and hurt the widereconomy, but any concession that looks like Iran is compromisingon what it sees as its sovereign right to peaceful nucleartechnology will be strongly resisted by conservatives.

"No one should consider our negotiators as compromisers,"Khamenei said in a speech, a day before the Nov. 4 anniversaryof the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, a pivotalevent in U.S.-Iranian relations, the ISNA news agency reported.

"They have a difficult mission and no one must weaken anofficial who is busy with work," said Khamenei, who wieldsultimate power in Iran's dual clerical-republic system,including over the nuclear programme.


Hardline factions, who oppose any thaw in relations with theUnited States, have criticised Rouhani's negotiating team fornot releasing details of the proposal they made to world powersat a previous round of talks in Geneva last month.

They have also resisted calls from moderate Iraniannewspapers and prominent figures including former PresidentAkbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to drop the "Death to America" chant,often heard at Friday prayers throughout Iran.

Khamenei reiterated previous statements that he is notoptimistic about the outcome of nuclear talks but said he saw nodownside to holding the negotiations.

"With God's permission, we will not be harmed by thesenegotiations ... if the negotiations reach a conclusion then allthe better, but if they don't it will mean that the country muststand on its own feet," Khamenei said.

He also criticised the United States for continuing toimpose sanctions and threatening possible military action. BothWashington and its ally Israel say the military option toprevent Iran getting nuclear weapons is something they do notrule out.

"We should not trust an enemy who smiles," Khamenei said."From one side the Americans smile and express a desire tonegotiate, and from another side they immediately say alloptions are on the table."

In September, U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that theUnited States would "take no options off the table, includingmilitary options, in terms of making sure that we do not havenuclear weapons in Iran."

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