Ayatollah Ali Khamenei


TEHRAN, Iran - Iran is not opposed to direct talks with the U.S. to resolve its nuclear standoff with the West, the country's top leader said Thursday in comments that appeared to soften its long-held policy of outright rejection of bilateral talks with Washington.

But Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he's not optimistic that such talks would yield results unless Washington stops imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic. His remarks came as President Obama visits Iran's archrival, Israel, which has repeatedly threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of obtaining a bomb.

Addressing a crowd in northeastern Iran on the first day of the new Persian calendar year, Khamenei also had a strong warning for Israel.

"Sometimes, leaders of the Zionist regime threaten us. They threaten to take military action. They are not in the size to be put in the list of Iranian nation's enemies," Khamenei said in comments broadcast live on state TV.

In a strong warning to Israel, Khamenei said that if Israel attacked Iran, Tehran would "level Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground."

The U.S. and its allies fear that Iran will ultimately be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied the charges, saying its nuclear program is geared towards generating electricity and producing radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

Khamenei claimed the U.S. wants to impose its will on Tehran.

"The Americans constantly send messages to us through various ways, saying let's hold (bilateral) talks on the nuclear issue," Khamenei said. "I'm not optimistic on these talks. Why? Because our previous experiences show that dialogue, in the logic of American gentlemen … means let's sit down and talk so that you (Iran) accept our views. This is not dialogue."