Iran's Khamenei OKs nuclear diplomacy with US, with a caveat

Khamenei issues a warning to Rouhani as Obama says Iran's willingness to negotiate on nukes must be tested

Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approves of new diplomatic path to resolve nuclear standoff with West.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, gave the country's President Hassan Rouhani a stamp of approval Saturday for his policy of outreach to the West, saying that he supports "the government's diplomatic moves," but said some aspects of Rouhani's trip to New York, to attend the United Nations General Assembly, were "not appropriate" — though Khamenei did not elaborate.

During President Rouhani's trip, he had a 15-minute phone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, a gesture aimed at ending three decades of estrangement between the two countries. It was the first conversation between U.S. and Iranian presidents in more than 30 years.

While Khamenei did not publicly criticize Rouhani over his dialogue with Obama, he called the U.S. "untrustworthy," according to the supreme leader's website Still, Khamenei has previously said he's not opposed to direct talks with the U.S. — perhaps implying that he prefers the matter to be handled through other diplomatic channels — to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, but he is not optimistic.

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"We are skeptical of Americans and have no trust in them at all. The American government is untrustworthy, arrogant, illogical and a promise-breaker. It's a government captured by the international Zionism network," said Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state.

Rouhani's outreach has received broad support from Iranian legislators and it appears popular, but some including the Revolutionary Guard appear rattled by the pace of developments.

The Guard chief commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, who praised Rouhani recently, called the phone call a "tactical mistake" and said the president should have avoided it.

"The respected president, who adopted a powerful and appropriate position in the trip ... would have been better off avoiding the telephone conversation with Obama," Jafari said in an interview earlier this week.

Obama, addressing diplomacy with Iran in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press published Saturday, said the world must "test" whether Rouhani is serious about pursuing a diplomatic resolution to international concerns over its nuclear aspirations. He said the U.S. won't take a "bad deal" from Iran and will make sure that anything agreed to can be verified.

Obama said Rouhani has staked his position on the idea that he can improve relations with the rest of the world, and has been saying a lot of the right things. He said the question for which the world is awaiting an answer is whether Rouhani can follow through.

Obama added that U.S. intelligence assessments show Iran is still "a year or more away" from building a nuclear weapon.

Charles Dharapak/AP

In the same interview, Obama addressed a number of international and domestic topics including the war in Afghanistan and the partial government shutdown in the U.S.

Obama said he prefers that Afghan troops take care of their country's security needs after the U.S. combat mission is completed at the end of 2014, but that the Afghans aren't ready to fully take on the responsibility just yet. Obama said he would consider leaving behind an unspecified number of U.S. troops in a training and advisory role.

The presence of coalition forces continue to be a sticking point in Afghanistan. At least five civilians, including three children, were killed overnight in a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan. The civilians had gone hunting for birds with air guns, local officials said Saturday.

Regarding the partial government shutdown, Obama said that a majority of lawmakers in the House — including Democrats and Republicans — would vote to get the government up and running again and raise the credit limit without conditions. Obama continued to place blame for a delay on the vote on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is attempting to extract additional concessions from the administration to appease certain member of his party.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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