A statement over the weekend from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps cautioned the country’s leaders to be skeptical in any dealings with the United States. The warning came ahead of a possible meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hasan Rouhani.
“Historical experiences make it necessary for the diplomatic apparatus of our country to carefully and skeptically monitor the behavior of White House officials so that the righteous demands of our nation are recognized and respected by those who favor interaction,” the IRGC said in a statement published by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The IRGC, distinct from the Iranian army, is beholden to Iran’s supreme leader and serves as the ideological guardian of the Islamic Republic. While the United States was fighting the insurgency in Iraq over the past decade, the IRGC supplied fighters , training, and logistical support for groups involved in killing American soldiers, according to reports.
Rouhani is to make his first appearance as president on the world stage this week when he attends the United Nations General Assembly in New York. US officials will be watching the visit closely for signs that Rouhani intends to thaw relations with the West and take a more moderate line in negotiations on his country’s disputed nuclear program.
The White House intimated on Friday that a meeting between Obama and the newly elected Rouhani was a possibility when both leaders are in New York City. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the US would be ready to engage in talks “on the basis of mutual respect” with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Earnest said the White House wants Tehran to prove that its program is only for civilian purposes.
Administration officials have had several conversations with their Israeli counterparts recently to assure them that Rouhani’s outreach — which has seen the new Iranian president give a US TV interview, pen an op-ed in the Washington Post, and send other conciliatory messages to the US — will not prompt a reduction in sanctions pressure designed to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, Israel’s Channel 2 reported on Friday night.
According to a report in The New York Times, American officials held private talks with Israeli officials to reassure them that the United States remained wary of Iran’s intentions regarding its nuclear program and would proceed cautiously in its dealings with Tehran.
Last week, Rouhani appeared on NBC News, saying in an interview that he was “empowered” by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to reach a deal on the nuclear issue, adding that Tehran had no intention of developing nuclear arms.
“We have time and again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever,” he said.
He added that the tone of the letter Obama had sent him was “positive and constructive.”
Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program have hit a deadlock concerning the future of the 20-percent-enriched uranium being produced at the formerly secret Fordo plant. Iran wants to simply agree to a freeze in enrichment in exchange for having the stringent sanctions placed against Tehran lifted. The United States wants the plant to be dismantled altogether, and wants Iran to hand over all of its highly enriched uranium.
Uranium for civilian energy purposes requires 5% enrichment, whereas uranium must be enriched to 20% or greater to be considered weapons-grade .
Washington does not see Iranian suspension of enrichment as meeting its demands, but as a confidence-building measure.
The Obama administration has indicated that it would be willing to consider discussing relaxing some sanctions if enrichment is suspended. It has not publicly signaled how conciliatory it is willing to be.
The Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.