Iranian FM: US must honor nuclear deal if it wants talks
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Iranian FM: US must honor nuclear deal if it wants talks

After Trump signals willingness to meet with Tehran’s leaders, Zarif says Washington first needs to end ‘economic war’ and ‘economic terrorism’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a high level political forum on sustainable development on July 17, 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York. (Kena Betancur/AFP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a high level political forum on sustainable development on July 17, 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

The United States must observe a landmark nuclear deal and halt “economic terrorism” against Iran if it wants to hold talks, the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister said Thursday.

Tehran and Washington have been locked in a bitter standoff since last year when US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its atomic program.

Trump said Monday he was ready to meet Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani within weeks, in a potential breakthrough reached during a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.

But Rouhani has said Washington must first lift sanctions imposed since its withdrawal from the nuclear deal, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that message.

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

“The United States is engaged in economic war against the Iranian people, and it won’t be possible for us to engage with the United States unless they stop imposing a war, engaging in economic terrorism against the Iranian people,” he told reporters during a visit to Malaysia,

“We spoke to the United States, we spoke at length with the United States, we reached an agreement and they need to implement the agreement that we have reached before they expect to have more talks,” he added, referring to the nuclear deal.

Iran was still talking to other world powers involved in the deal, he said.

“If [the US] wants to come back to the room there is a ticket that they need to purchase, and that ticket is to observe the agreement,” he added.

The statement came hours after a report that the US attacked and disabled a critical Iranian data base used to target oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Trump’s announcement this week came after Zarif traveled to France on Sunday for the second time in a matter of days, and held meetings on the sidelines of the G7 summit.

French President Emmanuel Macron, center left, and US President Donald Trump, center right, participate in a G-7 Working Session on the Global Economy, Foreign Policy, and Security Affairs in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper also called Wednesday for Iran to enter discussions with the US to ease tensions in the Gulf region.

“We are not seeking conflict with Iran. We want to engage with them diplomatically,” Esper said.

In response to the US withdrawal and its imposition of crippling sanctions, Iran has hit back by abandoning commitments under the nuclear deal.

On Tuesday US national security adviser John Bolton said Trump’s willingness to hold direct talks with Iran doesn’t signal any change in his administration’s stance toward the Islamic Republic.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks to media at the White House in Washington, July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“Talking with them [Iran] does not imply for President Trump changing your position and the idea that Iran would receive some tangible economic benefit merely for stopping doing things it shouldn’t have been in the first place is just a nonstarter,” Bolton told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview as he visited Ukraine.

“If there is a comprehensive deal then of course the sanctions will come off at point. When the regime in Iran is ready to talk about that then there’ll be a meeting,” he said.

Trump has put in place a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran through crippling sanctions that critics see as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East between the US and Iran.

Since the US pullout from the nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the accord as the US reimposed and escalated sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude abroad, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.

Israel is deeply worried by Trump’s declared readiness in principle to meet in the near future with Rouhani, top ministers were quoted saying on Monday evening. The fear is that the US president will open a dialogue with Iran similar to the ongoing one he has with North Korea, taking pressure off Tehran.

“We have no interest in a negotiations between the United States and Iran,” the TV report quoted one minister saying, “but our capacity to influence and confront Trump is extremely limited.” This, the report went on, was because Trump has “bear-hugged” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so tightly that going out against him is deemed impossible.

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