Donald Trump says he’s willing to talk to Iran without conditions, but Tehran has some

The US president’s surprising offer was met by Iran saying that the US would first have to return to a 2015 nuclear deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 4:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 10:14pm

Iranian officials reacted sceptically on Tuesday to US President Donald Trump’s comments that he’s willing to negotiate with his Iranian counterpart, saying instead that if Trump wants talks, he needs to rejoin the international nuclear deal he unilaterally pulled out of earlier this year.

Trump on Monday said he’d meet Iranian President Hassan Rowhani “anytime” if the Iranian leader were willing.

In his first public remarks after the comment, Rowhani did not mention Trump at all but instead stressed the need for the other nations involved in the nuclear deal to forge ahead with their pledges of trying to salvage it.

“We are at a very critical point in history regarding the nuclear deal and Europe’s transparent measures to compensate for the United States’ unlawful withdrawal from it are very important for the Iranian nation,” Rowhani said after talks with new British Ambassador Rob Macaire.

In addition to Britain, China, Germany, France, Russia and the European Union are negotiating with Iran on preserving the deal.

The Iranian leadership has previously ruled out one-on-one talks with Trump, following his decision to pull the United States out of the deal under which Iran was given relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted political adviser Hamid Aboutalebi as saying that for talks to happen, the US needs to rejoin the deal.

“Those who believe in dialogue as a method of resolving disputes in civilised societies should be committed to the means,” he said.

The news agency also quoted a senior Iranian parliamentarian as saying it’s not a good time for talks.

“If Trump had not withdrawn from [the] nuclear deal and had not imposed sanctions on Iran, there would be no problem with negotiations with America,” said Ali Motahari, deputy speaker of parliament. “But negotiating with the Americans would be a humiliation now.”

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Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear accord in May, saying it was too generous to Iran. He has vowed to ramp up sanctions until Iran radically changes its regional policies, including its support for regional militant groups, something the country’s leaders have long refused to do.

Even though Trump on Monday said if Rowhani were to meet him there would be “no preconditions”, he also did not reverse any of those earlier demands.

With the first US sanctions due to come into effect next Monday, the economy in Iran has already been hit, giving rise to growing fears of prolonged economic suffering. Another round, covering other types of commerce, including oil purchases, goes into effect on November 4.

Rowhani on Tuesday again suggested Iran could cause major disruptions in the Gulf region by attempting to block key shipping lanes, saying “Iran has never sought tensions in the region and does not want there to be any problem for the world’s waterways, but it will never let go of its right to export oil,” the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

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With the US sanctions looming, the Iranian currency has been in free fall, hitting a new low Monday, at 122,000 rial to the dollar on the thriving black market. It recovered slightly to 115,000 to the dollar on Tuesday, and concerns are growing as Iranians have seen their savings dwindle and purchasing power drop.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in unusually sharp language, called on Rowhani to do more to prop up the rial.

“The unique and extensive backing you benefited from in past weeks shouldn’t preclude you from taking revolutionary actions to control prices and prevent the enormous increase in the price of foreign currency and gold,” Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying in an open letter to Rowhani published by the Tasnim news agency. “Decision-making in today’s difficult circumstances necessitates revolutionary determination and decisiveness in dealing with certain managers’ weaknesses.”

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the head of influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, suggested a US return to the nuclear deal, which would bring an end to the economic uncertainty, would be needed before Tehran could think of negotiating.

“There can be no negotiations with the Americans raising the issue of talks from the position of power,” he was quoted as saying on the website of the Iranian parliament, calling Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal the “biggest blow to diplomacy”.

Reformist lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian questioned negotiating with Trump, calling him “untrustworthy,” and also said now was not the time for talks.

“If this negotiation [is] carried out in any form, then it will be considered as surrender and the Iranian nation will not surrender,” he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Bloomberg