Iranian supreme leader may have aggravated a stand-off with the West by limiting nuclear monitors' access to Iranian scientists. The move came while Iran and Saudi Arabia face off over a ship bound for Yemen.
Despite signaling that the country was willing to continue talks about its nuclear program beyond the current deadline of June 30, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that Iran would never accept "unreasonable demands" of the six international negotiating powers brought together for talks by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (IAEA).
"We have already said that we will not allow any inspections of military sites by foreigners," Iranian state-run IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
"They also say that we must allow interviews with nuclear scientists. This is interrogation. I will not allow foreigners to come and talk to scientists who have advanced the science to this level," Khamenei said.
Diplomats said that progress was being made but significant gaps remained on a main document and technical annexes ahead of the end-of-June deadline. Under a final deal, nuclear monitors would likely travel throughout Iran to investigate the country's nuclear program.
In the past, IAEA inspectors have complained of lack of access to sites, equipment, documents and scientists. The West fears Tehran is developing nuclear weapons while Iran insists the program serves only civilian purposes.
Iranian ship headed to Yemen
Meanwhile, an Iranian aid ship en route to Yemen is expected to enter the Red Sea. The captain of the Iran Shahed vessel, headed to Yemen's western port of Hodaida, said that he expected to leave the Gulf of Aden during the course of Wednesday morning, reaching Hodaida by Thursday.
"If the weather and the ship's technical conditions persist... we will enter the Bab al-Mandeb strait tomorrow morning," Captain Massoud Ghazi told IRNA. Independent tracking sources confirmed the approximate position of the vessel.
Iran's Foreign Ministry warned against attacks on the Iran Shahed, addressing Saudi Arabia and its allies in particular. Saudi forces have been leading an eight-week air-force operation against Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, who reportedly were being backed by Iran. A spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition forces, however, already said that no Iranian vessel would be allowed to dock at any port in Yemen.
Iranian authorities have stated that the humanitarian initiative comes as part of a coordinated plan with the United Nations (UN) and the International Red Cross. Iranian state media said that in addition to a medical team, the ship also carried a number of journalists and peace activists from around the globe. Two war ships escorted the vessel through international waters.
ss/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)