TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - American proposals for direct talks with Iran are pointless while Washington is "holding a gun" to the country through sanctions, Iran's supreme leader said Thursday, quashing a possible breakthrough in contacts with the West over the nuclear standoff.
The message from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all major decisions in Iran, was reiterated by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a news conference in Cairo later in the day.
Their dismissal of one-on-one dialogue raises the stakes when wider negotiations between Iran and world powers, including the United States, resume this month.
Another dead-end round - after three stalemated sessions last year - could fuel accusations by Israel and others that Iran is using the talks as a stalling tactic while it gets closer to having the capabilities to build a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the world has until this summer - at the latest - to keep Iran from building a bomb. He's hinted that Israel could attack unilaterally if all other efforts fail.
Iran denies it seeks atomic arms, saying its nuclear fuel is only for energy-producing reactors and medical applications. Iran officials have frequently called attention to a religious edict by Khamenei that says nuclear arms are contrary to Islamic beliefs.
"Talks are held to arrive at an understanding, not to impose anything," Ahmadinejad said. "Such talks will be meaningless if someone raises a club and imposes" something on Iran, he added.
Talks would be productive only if they were based on mutual respect, he said. "Things will be fine if the Americans correct the manner in which they address us."
The earlier comments by Khamenei were his first public reaction since a White House offer of direct dialogue received a high-profile boost this week from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during a security summit in Munich attended by Iran's foreign minister.
"Talks will not solve any problems," Khamenei said in comments posted on his website.
"You are holding a gun against Iran saying, "Talks or you'll fire.' The Iranian nation will not be frightened by such threats," Khamenei added in a reference to U.S. sanctions over Iran's nuclear efforts.
The U.S. this week further tightened sanctions, which have already slashed Iran's oil revenue by 45 percent. The new measures seek to cut deeper into Iran's ability to get oil revenue. It calls on countries that buy Iranian crude - mostly Asian nations including China and India - not to transfer money directly to Iran and instead place it in local accounts.