Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali KhameneiReuters

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Monday signaled support for Tehran's nuclear negotiations to secure sanctions relief, The Associated Press reported.

Khamenei stressed the importance of Iranian economic self-sufficiency during a lengthy televised speech on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

At the same time, he added, “I do not say that you should not seek to lift the sanctions. Those who are trying and working in that field, there is no problem.”

Khamenei has remained largely silent on the negotiations to restore Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. His vague but supportive comments on Monday signaled that Iranian negotiators retained political space and flexibility, noted AP.

Iran has gradually scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal it signed with world powers, in response to former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in May of 2018, but has held several rounds of indirect talks with the US on a return to the agreement.

Negotiations nearly reached completion earlier this month before Moscow demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray. Negotiators have yet to reconvene in the Austrian capital.

“The essence of the issue is to run the country in such a way that sanctions cannot hit the country seriously,” Khamenei said on Monday, praising the government of President Ebrahim Raisi for boosting Iran’s trade with its neighbors and shipping Iranian crude abroad despite sanctions. “There is another way for us to use oil revenues for the country’s infrastructure."

Meanwhile on Monday, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said that a deal to restore the 2015 deal is not imminent, but Washington is prepared to take "difficult decisions" to make it happen.

For the United States, he said the main issues remain Iran committing to verifiable limits on its nuclear activities, in return for an easing of punishing sanctions placed on the country.

"We're not going to respond to specific claims about what sanctions we may or may not be prepared to lift as part of a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," Price added.