Ayatollah Says America Can't Stop Iran Getting Nuclear Weapons

Iran's supreme leader has once again said the country has no interest in acquiring nuclear weapons—but also warned that if it did want to, the U.S. would not be able to stop it.

Speaking during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on Thursday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his nation would not reopen negotiations with the U.S. as President Donald Trump had done nothing to earn it, according to the Ayatollah's personal website.

Abe is in Iran to act as a go-between between Washington and Tehran following several weeks of heightened tensions between the two rivals.

The diplomatic crisis began last year when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—often referred to as the Iran nuclear deal—demanding a renegotiated settlement that included restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program and regional influence. His withdrawal allowed the U.S. to re-implement crippling sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear power program.

In May, the Trump administration began ending waivers issued to nations that had allowed them to continue trading with Iran without repercussion, with the goal of cutting the nation's oil exports to zero.

Citing an imminent threat from Iran, the administration then sent fresh military assets to the region to guard against any potential aggression, raising fears the standoff may descend into open conflict.

Though the war of words between the two nations has somewhat abated in recent weeks, there appears little hope of a new nuclear agreement. Attacks on commercial shipping off the coast of the United Arab Emirates—which the U.S. blamed on Iran but in which Tehran denied involvement—have further strained tensions.

On Thursday, two more attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman again threatened to escalate the standoff, though no accusations of responsibility have yet been issued.

Abe's visit was designed to soothe relations between the U.S. and Iran and convey Trump's wish to enter into new discussions about Tehran's nuclear program. But Khamenei said: "We do not believe that at all, because genuine talks would not come from someone like Trump."

"I don't regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response," the supreme leader added.

Khamenei stressed that Iran has no desire to build a nuclear arsenal. "We oppose nuclear weapons and we have issued a religious fatwa prohibiting building nuclear weapons," he said. "But rest assured that if we wanted to build nuclear weapons, the U.S. would not be able to do anything about it, and the United States' prohibition would not be an obstacle."

"The United States has no competency, by any means, to speak out about what country should or shouldn't have nuclear weapons," he added, "because the United States possess arsenals of thousands of nuclear warheads."

Abe also communicated a message from Trump to Khamenei saying the U.S. is not pursuing regime change in Iran, though National Security Adviser John Bolton has been open about his desire to topple the theocratic regime.

Khamenei's response was, again, stubborn. "Our problem with the United States is not about regime change," he told Abe. "Even if they intend to do pursue that, they won't be able to achieve it; just as previous U.S. presidents tried to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran during the past 40 years, and failed."

"What Trump says—that he is not after regime change—is a lie. For, if he could do so, he would. However, he is not capable of doing it."

Thursday's tanker attacks will be another spanner in the works of U.S.-Iranian dialogue. The U.S. and its allies have not yet apportioned blame, but Iran will be a prime suspect given its proximity to the incident, past threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and recent tension with the U.S.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter: "Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning." He did not speculate as to who may be responsible.

Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, nuclear weapon, US
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts the first ballot in key elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts in Tehran, Iran, on February 26, 2016. Getty/Scott Peterson