ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed the value of direct talks with the U.S., his first comments touching on meetings that officials from the Islamic Republic had with Americans dating back to secret talks that began in 2012.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters in Iran, did say that nuclear talks with world powers over Tehran's nuclear program will continue.
Addressing Foreign Ministry officials Wednesday, Khamenei criticized the U.S., saying direct talks with its diplomats didn't help reduce sanctions or decrease its animosity toward Tehran.
"Some pretended that if we sit down with Americans at the negotiating table, many of the problems will be resolved. We knew that won't be the case but developments in the past year proved this reality once again," Iranian state television quoted Khamenei as saying. "Americans not only didn't reduce animosity but increased sanctions. They say these are not new sanctions but in fact they are new. Talks about sanctions didn't bear any benefits."
Khamenei called ties and negotiations with U.S. harmful outside of very specific cases. He did not elaborate.
A recent interim nuclear deal with world powers grew out of secret meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials in Oman and elsewhere that began in 2012. That deal saw Iran curb portions of its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of some sanctions. Negotiations continue for a final deal.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. remains engaged with Iran on the nuclear issue and recently held a bilateral meeting in Geneva.
"We're engaged with them, quite frankly, every day on this issue," she said.
Harf said that the U.S. has "not imposed additional nuclear-related sanctions" on Iran since a November 2013 agreement that set guidelines for negotiations between Tehran and world powers.
The West fears Iran's nuclear program could allow it to build atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, like generating power and medical research.
Hard-liners in Iran are increasingly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani and the negotiators, saying they have given too many concessions at nuclear talks in return for too little. On Monday, Rouhani offered his harshest criticism yet of hard-liners opposed to making a deal over the nuclear program, calling them "political cowards" and telling them to go "to hell."
Wednesday, Khamenei said he supported Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his nuclear negotiation team.
"We don't ban the continuation of nuclear talks and the job that Dr. Zarif and his friends began and have moved forward properly," Khamenei said. But "sitting down and talking to Americans has absolutely no effect on reducing their animosity and it's fruitless."
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