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Statements Show Nuclear Deal Did Not Change Iran's View Of Israel

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We've heard plenty this week about the different feelings U.S. leaders and politicians have about the Iran nuclear deal. Now we're going to talk about the response in Iran, specifically, from the supreme leader. He's the country's main decision maker, and that includes the nuclear program. We've reached Thomas Erdbrink at The New York Times in Tehran to talk about his latest piece. The title is, "Iran's Supreme Leader Says Israel Won't Exist In 25 Years."

And, Thomas Erdbrink, to start, what about that headline? What was the context that this came up?

THOMAS ERDBRINK: Well, this of course has to do with Iran's ideology. Iran doesn't recognize the state of Israel. The supreme leader has been calling for a referendum in which he assumes that Palestinians and Arabs will be the majority in that country. And of course we've all heard from other Iranian politicians who have called for the destruction of Israel. And this shows that Iran's supreme leader feels exactly the same about Israel as he did before the nuclear deal.

CORNISH: He also reiterated his statement that beyond the nuclear deal, Iran would not have any further negotiations with the U.S., which he called the great Satan. This is language that is exactly what critics of the Iran deal here in the U.S. are complaining about. How did you read this?

ERDBRINK: Well, I've been following Mr. Khamenei for a very long time now, and I find him to be a man who is very much convinced of his ideological ideas. He has always spoken out against any form of relations with the United States because he feels that - as he said it the other day - if you let the devil sneak in through the window, he will make the youths of the nation disappointed and disenchanted. And that is ideological speak for - as he sees it - corrupt the minds of the Iranian youths, and, therefore, of course undermine his rule. That said, he has been saying this for many, many decades, and he has allowed talks with the United States over the nuclear program. So he might agree on talks in the future, for instance on Syria and other things, but he, at least for his domestic audience, keeps this line that there will be no improvement of relation of any form.

CORNISH: But the supreme leader has been relatively quiet during negotiations and then during this kind of public U.S. vote wrangling. What do you make of the timing of his comments?

ERDBRINK: Well, I do feel that his office is watching the negotiations in the United States very, very, very closely. And it is no coincidence that just as Obama reached a critical number of supportive politicians in Congress he came out saying that also the Iranian parliament should review the nuclear agreement. So he is sort of caught between - one, between a rock and a hard place. He needs his deal to happen. At the same time, he doesn't want relations with the United States to improve.

CORNISH: So how have these comments been received in Tehran?

ERDBRINK: Well, a lot of ordinary people very much want a nuclear deal to be the start of new relations with the United States, but at the same time, if you rule this nation, you need to emphasize that the ideological standpoints, such as amity towards United States, are the only way forward. So there's definitely tension between those two lines of thoughts, and I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. He doesn't want relations with the United States, but at the same time, he does want this deal to happen.

CORNISH: Thomas Erdbrink is the Tehran bureau chief for The New York Times.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ERDBRINK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.