TEHRAN/ WASHINGTON: An advisor to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that any talks with the United States had to start with reducing hostility and a return to the nuclear deal.
“Respect for the great nation of Iran, reduction in hostilities, US returning to the nuclear deal… That will open the rocky path of the moment,” wrote Hamid Aboutalebi on Twitter.
He was responding to a statement by US President Donald Trump on Monday that he was willing to meet “any time” with Iran’s leaders without preconditions.
“I would meet with Iran if they wanted to meet,” Trump said at a White House press conference, barely a week after he had traded bellicose threats with Rouhani.
Aboutalebi said Iran had showed its openness to dialogue in the past, particularly with the phone call between Rouhani and Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama in 2013.
That dialogue was “based on the idea of confidence-building measures and the nuclear deal was an achievement of this effort and it must be accepted,” wrote Aboutalebi.
However, foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi said on Monday, prior to Trump’s statement, that talks with the current US administration were impossible.
“Given the hostile measures of the US against Iran after its withdrawal from the JCPOA (nuclear deal) and the reinstatement of economic sanctions, there is no possibility for talks and Washington reveals its untrustworthy nature day by day,” Ghasemi told reporters, according to the conservative-aligned Mehr news agency.
Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May, and is set to reimpose full sanctions in two stages in August and November.
He says he wants a new deal that goes beyond limiting Iran’s nuclear programme and includes curbs to its regional behaviour and missile programme.
Donald Trump seemed to jettison threats of impending war with Iran on Monday, saying he was willing to meet the country’s leaders without precondition, a dramatic about-face by the enigmatic US president.
Barely a week after warning Iran it would suffer untold ‘consequences,’ Trump said he would meet the country’s leader Hassan Rouhani “any time” and without preconditions.
“I would meet with Iran if they wanted to meet,” Trump said at a joint White House press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, “I don’t know if they are ready yet.” “No preconditions,” he added.
“They want to meet, I’ll meet. Any time they want. Good for the country. Good for them. Good for us. And good for the world.”
White House and administration officials rushed to place caveats on the president’s seemingly open invitation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered his own interpretation of the “no preconditions” offer, setting out three steps Iran must take before talks take place.
“The president wants to meet with folks to solve problems if the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to making fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their maligned behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation,” he said.
“Then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him.”
National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said Trump was open to dialogue and even ending four decades of bitter animosity between the two countries, but only if Iran fundamentally changes.
“The United States is prepared to take actions to end sanctions, reestablish full diplomatic and commercial relations, permit Iran to have advanced technology and support the reintegration of the Iranian economy into the international economic system,” Marquis said.
“However, this relief is only possible if there are tangible, demonstrated and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies. Until then, the sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course.”
Trump’s offer comes after a provocative warning a week ago from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said the US should not “play with the lion’s tail” and warned that any conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars.”
Trump responded with an all-caps tirade on Twitter: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
“WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!” he added.
The US is regularly suspected of backing the idea of regime change, but analysts read the tweets as simply a way for Trump to pivot after a week of dire headlines over his much-maligned summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
In May, Trump – who has made Iran his public enemy number one – announced the US withdrawal from what he called a ‘defective’ multinational nuclear deal with Tehran, and moved to reinstate punishing sanctions.
The 2015 agreement came in response to fears that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb. Washington’s European allies maintain their support for the deal and have vowed to stay in it, though their businesses fear US penalties.
“I ended the Iran deal. It was a ridiculous deal,” Trump said. “If we could work something out that’s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.”
Trump said he and Conte had agreed that the “brutal regime in Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Never.”
“We encourage all nations to pressure Iran to end the full range of its malign activities,” the US leader added.
“Speaking to other people, especially when you are talking about potentials of war and death, and famine and lots of other things, you meet.”
Earlier, Pompeo said Washington was not afraid to sanction top-ranking leaders of the ‘nightmare’ Iranian regime.
Pompeo also said that Washington wants all countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil “as close to zero as possible” by November 4, or face American sanctions. “There’s more to come,” Pompeo said of US financial penalties.
Iran’s currency traded at a fresh record-low of 119,000 to the dollar on Tuesday, a loss of nearly two-thirds of its value since the start of the year as US sanctions loom.
The Iranian rial has been crashing in recent days as the country anxiously awaits the reimposition of full US sanctions, starting on August 6.
The government has been in crisis mode, replacing its central bank chief last week.
The central bank issued a statement on Monday, blaming the currency volatility on the “enemies’ conspiracy” and vowing fresh counter-measures “in the coming days”.
In April, the government tried to fix the value of the rial at 42,000, but black-market rates exploded as Iranians rushed to illegal traders, seeking to protect their savings by buying dollars, or investing in the hope that the rial would continue to fall.
With banks often refusing to sell their dollars at the artificially low rate, the government was forced to soften its line in June, allowing more flexibility for certain groups of importers.
Having announced in May that it was pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal, the US is set to reimpose its full range of sanctions in two stages on August 6 and November 4.
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