A prominent Iranian religious leader threatened the United States and Israel with missile attacks just as U.S. officials and other diplomats were preparing for last-minute talks with Iran over its suspected nuclear-weapons program.
The bombastic Friday sermon by Ayatollah Ali Movahedi-Kermani
further inflamed tensions surrounding the talks aimed at meeting a Nov. 24 deadline for a deal to stop Iran from enriching uranium in exchange of the removal of crippling economic sanctions.
In Washington, Republicans and Democrats are warning President Barack Obama against signing deal that would lift sanctions in exchange for a vague promise by Iran to stop seeking weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
The political climate is likely to worsen in January when Republicans, strongly suspicious of Iran’s nuclear goals, take over both houses of Congress.
At Friday prayers, Movahedi-Kermani warned that Iran will "raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground" and attack U.S. bases if Israel or the United States takes military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran’s "Sejil ballistic missile can hit and raze to the ground any place in Israel, as well as any American base in the region," he claimed.
Movahedi-Kermani, a close associate to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, drew cheers of "Death to America, Death to Israel" from his crowd of supporters.
Some top Iranian legislators are also complaining about the outlines of the deal with negotiators from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The six global powers are proposing a gradual lifting of sanctions if Iran meets the goals of any future deal.
The Iranian lawmakers are demanding that all sanctions be lifted immediately upon the signing of an agreement.
Mohammad Hassan Asafari
, a member of the parliament’s National Security and Policy Commission, warned that "Iran will expedite its nuclear program" unless sanctions are removed, the state-run Fars News Agency reported over the weekend, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran website.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the commission chairman, echoed Asafari’s demand in a separate interview.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to join his colleagues from the other world powers in Vienna on Tuesday for more talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
However, a top U.S. diplomat Monday criticized Iran for failing to negotiate
in good faith.
"We've been disappointed in their failure thus far to constructively engage on this issue," said Ambassador Laura Kennedy, the U.S. envoy to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, Reuters reported
The United States and its negotiating partners are demanding that Iran cut the number of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium into weapons-grade material, to about 4,500. But Iran insists on keeping 10,000 in operation.
The difference is fundamental to any final deal. The more centrifuges Iran keeps in operation, the sooner it could develop nuclear material for an atomic bomb.
Critics complain that the United States and its allies have caved into pressure from Iran to allow it to continue enriching uranium instead of scrapping its program altogether.
Last week, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) warned the Obama administration that it must prevent Iran from "ever becoming a threshold nuclear-weapons state."
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