Iran leader says policy on 'arrogant' US won't change

Tehran (AFP) - Iran's avowed opposition to an "arrogant" United States government will not change despite a landmark nuclear deal with world powers, its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday.

In a speech in which he stressed Iran was sharply at odds with US policy across the Middle East, Khamenei highlighted huge differences over the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and other regional states.

The remarks were greeted by customary chants of "Death to America", a feature of public ceremonies since the Islamic revolution of 1979 which toppled the US-backed shah.

"Our policies toward the arrogant US government will not change," Khamenei said at a prayer gathering in Tehran marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

"US policies in the region differ from Iran's by 180 degrees," he added.

Tuesday's nuclear deal between Iran and six powers led by the US has raised hopes it might pave the way for greater cooperation with Tehran elsewhere, particularly in the war against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.

Tehran and Washington had informal discussions in 2001 when US troops invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban from power after the September 11 attacks.

Khamenei did not rule out the possibility of cooperation against IS, noting there can be "exceptional circumstances" that justify talks, such as the nuclear issue, but he insisted there would be no broader detente.

"We haven't any other talks with the US on regional and bilateral issues," said the 76-year-old cleric, who has the final say on all matters of state.

He told worshippers the nuclear agreement would not alter Iran's support for the governments of Syria and Iraq nor its backing of "oppressed people" in Yemen and Bahrain, and the Palestinians.

The US, in contrast, he said, had backed Israeli "atrocities" in Gaza last year.

Iran has provided money and military advisers to support President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria against rebels it accuses Gulf Arab states of arming with Western connivance.

It has also strongly opposed Saudi-led military interventions against fellow Shiites in Bahrain and Yemen.

Riyadh, the region's main Sunni power, has in turn accused its Shiite rival Iran of malign military intent and meddling.

- Saudi 'welcome' -

The days since the accord was struck on Tuesday have seen the United States and Britain seek to reassure both Gulf Arab states and Iran's arch-foe Israel about their security.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, was the biggest opponent of the West's diplomacy with Iran, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbying US lawmakers to block it.

US President Barack Obama on Saturday hit back at the critics, saying that without the accord "we'd risk another war in the most volatile region in the world."

"This deal actually pushes Iran further away from a bomb. And there's a permanent prohibition on Iran ever having a nuclear weapon," he said.

But with the agreement now facing a potentially bruising 60-day review by Congress, his administration has been keen to bring at least some of the sceptics among its allies on board.

The White House said on Friday that in talks in Washington this week Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir had welcomed the accord.

The Saudi embassy said he had "reaffirmed Saudi Arabia's support for an agreement that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability."

Within a few months, the deal stands to give Iran relief from UN and Western sanctions that have ravaged its economy.

In return, Iran has pledged to place curbs on its nuclear programme for at least a decade.

Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, a position Khamenei restated on Saturday.

He stressed that the agreement with Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany was not yet law and would have to be carefully scrutinised.

But he praised President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's negotiators. "They really took pains and worked hard."

Under a law passed last month, Iran's parliament must approve the nuclear deal but questions about whether the West honours its side of the bargain rest with the Supreme National Security Council not with lawmakers.

Khamenei touched on that issue later Saturday in a meeting with ambassadors from Muslim countries.

"Iran has no confidence in the US because American politicians are not sincere and fair," he said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Separately, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, said it had "concerns" about the terms of a UN Security Council resolution on the nuclear deal.

As well as lifting UN sanctions, the resolution could have ramifications for Iran's ballistic missile programme.