Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 7, 2013

Iran's supreme leader rejects direct talks with US

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's supreme leader Thursday strongly rejected proposals for direct talks with the United States, effectively quashing suggestions for a breakthrough one-on-one dialogue on the nuclear standoff and potentially other issues.

The statement posted on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website echoes previous remarks opposing bilateral talks with Washington in parallel with stop-and-start nuclear negotiations with world powers, including the U.S., which are scheduled to resume later this month.

But the latest comments marked Khamenei's first reaction since the idea of direct talks received a high-profile boost earlier this week from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during a security summit in Munich attended by Iran's foreign minister.

Khamenei's statement also could spill over into the negotiations in Kazakhstan later this month between Iran and a six-nation group comprising the permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany. His apparent references to U.S. sanctions — saying Washington was "holding a gun" to Iran — suggests Iranian envoys will likely stick to demands for relief from the economic pressures before considering any nuclear concessions.

The U.S. this week further tightened sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which have already cut Iran's oil revenue by 45 percent. The new measures seek to cut deeper into Iran's ability to get oil revenue. It calls on countries that buy Iranian crude — mostly Asian nations including China and India — to set the money aside and require Iran use it buy local products rather than get cash.

"They say the ball is in Iran's court. The ball is in your court," said Khamenei. "You have to be accountable and explain what it means to offer talks while simultaneously continuing pressure and threats."

The comments followed another jab at the U.S.: Video broadcast on state TV purportedly from an advanced CIA spy drone captured in December 2011 after crossing into Iranian airspace from Afghanistan.

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