Iran’s Rouhani tells US to end sanctions before he’ll talk to Trump

Islamic Republic leader says summit merely a ‘photo op’ unless Washington eases financial pressure; claims fear of nuclear weapons already ‘removed’ by Khamenei’s 2003 fatwa

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a conference in Tehran, Iran, August 26, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a conference in Tehran, Iran, August 26, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the United States on Tuesday to “take the first step” by lifting all sanctions against Iran, a day after US President Donald Trump said he was open to meeting.

“The [first] step is to retreat from sanctions. You must retreat from all illegal, unjust and wrong sanctions against the nation of Iran,” Rouhani said in a speech aired live on state television.

“Without the US’s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development,” Rouhani said.

“If someone intends to make it as just a photo op with Rouhani, that is not possible,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Rouhani expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis following America’s pullout from the nuclear deal.

“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,” he had said. “Even if the odds of success are not 90% but are 20% or 10%, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”

He said “the key for positive change is in the hands of Washington,” because Iran had already ruled out ever doing what worries the US the most — building an atomic bomb.

“If honestly this is your only concern, this concern has already been removed” through a fatwa issued by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he said.

Iranian demonstrators burn a makeshift US flag during a rally in the capital Tehran, on May 10 2019. (Stringer/AFP)

Khamenei is said to have issued a religious edict banning nuclear weapons in 2003 and has reiterated it several times since.

However, the US, Israel, European governments and international atomic inspectors believe the country has worked to grow a nuclear program capable of producing such weapons in the years since.

“So take the first step. Without this step, this lock will not be unlocked,” Rouhani said at a Tehran event marking the start of construction at a housing project.

The US unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal in May last year and subsequently reimposed biting sanctions, citing Tehran’s ballistic missile program, support for terror groups, and interventionist policies in several regional conflicts.

On Monday, Trump said he would be open to meeting Rouhani in the coming weeks “if the circumstances were correct,” after French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned the possibility of such a summit.

“I think he’s going to want to meet. I think Iran wants to get this situation straightened out,” Trump added.

“At a given point in time, there will have to be a meeting between the American and Iranian president,” Trump said.

He also called Rouhani a “great negotiator.”

The opening came following a flurry of diplomacy at the G7 summit of world leaders in Biarritz, France, including an unscheduled visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands during a joint press conference in Biarritz, south-west France on August 26, 2019, on the third day of the annual G7 Summit. (ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Macron and other G7 leaders opposed Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and to impose new sanctions. They have been trying to salvage the painstakingly negotiated treaty ever since.

Trump has put in place a policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program via crippling sanctions that are seen as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

Trump on Monday indicated he might be open to Iran being offered “a short-term line of credit or loan” to help its economy, backed by Iranian oil.

“We’re talking about a letter of credit,” he specified. “It would be from numerous countries.”

Tehran “may need some money to get over a very rough patch” caused by US economic sanctions, he explained.

Rouhani defended Zarif’s Biarritz visit in a speech aired live on state television on Monday.

“I believe that for our country’s national interests we must use any tool,” he said.

But hardliners have criticized the initiative, with the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper saying the trip was “improper” and sent “a message of weakness and desperation.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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