Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday his country wanted the elimination of all atomic weapons—a pacifist assertion seemingly intended to counter apprehensions in the West about Tehran’s real intentions about its nuclear programme.

“We believe that nuclear weapons must be obliterated, and we do not intend to make nuclear weapons, but if we had not had this belief and had decided to possess nuclear weapons, no power could have prevented us,” said Ayatollah Khamenei in an address to thousands of clerics, officials and people of the north-western Iranian city of Tabriz.

The remarks by Iran’s topmost leader seemed carefully timed. Many in the West have been leveraging North Korea’s nuclear test earlier this week to mount pressure on Iran for greater concessions. Iran and the six global powers are set to hold nuclear talks in Kazakhstan on February 26.

In an interview that appeared in the Washington Post on Thursday, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited the North Korean example to underscore the perils of an endless and open-ended dialogue. “We should not give much more time to the Iranians, and we should not waste time,” said Mr. Ban. “We have seen what happened with the DPRK,” he added in reference to North Korea which is officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “It ended up that they [were] secretly, quietly, without any obligations, without any pressure, making progress”.

The top U.N. official exhorted the U.N. Security Council to “show a firm, decisive and effective, quick response”.

Offended by Mr. Ban’s blunt assertions, Iran on Saturday fired its riposte. Mohammad Khazaei, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. sent a letter on Friday to the U.N. Secretary-General, which called Mr. Ban’s remarks on Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities as “unfortunate,” and “in contradiction to his duties and against international principles”.

The Iranian side said that through his remarks, the U.N. Secretary-General had breached the line of neutrality. The letter advised the U.N. to observe impartiality, transparency and equity in its conduct, Iran’s Press TV reported.

Iran has been reinforcing the peaceful intent of its atomic programme by citing Ayatollah Khamenei’s religious decree that formally bans development of atomic weapons.

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