Iran says willing to discuss prisoners if US shows ‘respect’

FM Zarif says Washington must show a ‘change in attitude’ if it wants Tehran to free detained Americans

Iran Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP/John Thys)
Iran Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP/John Thys)

WASHINGTON  — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US government of arrogance and belligerence, saying that Washington needed “a change in attitude” before any meaningful negotiations can begin over several US citizens being held prisoner in Iran.

“It is important… for the (Trump) administration to show the ability to engage in a respectful dialogue,” Zarif said. “The United States needs to learn how to treat other sovereign nations, particularly sovereign nations who do not depend on the United States for continued existence.”

Zarif spoke to CBS’ Face the Nation on Friday; the full interview will be broadcast Sunday and portions of the transcript were made available to The Associated Press.

At least five Iranians, all dual-American citizens or green-card holders, have been sentenced to prison in Iran on espionage-related charges, as has Chinese-American Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang.

Zarif said his government is open to talks on a prisoner release — particularly on health or humanitarian grounds; one of the prisoners, Baquer Namazi, is 81 and in poor health. But he said the current American attitude makes such negotiations impossible.

“You do not engage in negotiations by exercising disrespect for a country, for its people, for its government,” he said. “Then you do not leave much room for a genuine dialogue.”

US President Donald Trump has had an antagonistic relationship with Tehran since before his election. Trump campaigned partially on his strong opposition to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran signed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Most recently Trump has vowed to withdraw from the agreement by May 12 unless US, British, French and German negotiators can agree to fix what he sees as its serious flaws.

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