Iranian officials reacted skeptically on Tuesday to US President Donald Trump’s comments that he’s willing to negotiate with Tehran, with the country’s president saying it was up to Europe to save the nuclear deal after Washington’s “illegal” withdrawal.
Officials said 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 with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “anytime” if the Iranian leader were willing.
In his first public remarks after the comment, Rouhani 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.
“Now, after the US illegal withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the ball is in Europe’s court in the limited time that has been left,” he said, according to Iranian state-run media.
“Today 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,” he 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 program.
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 civilized societies should be committed to the means,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior Iranian lawmaker said Tuesday that talks with the US at this time would amount to a “humiliation.”
“If Trump had not withdrawn from [the] nuclear deal and had not imposed sanctions on Iran, there would be no problem with negotiations with America,” Ali Motahari, the deputy speaker of parliament, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“But negotiating with the Americans would be a humiliation now,” he said.
Trump withdrew from the 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 said on Monday that if Rouhani were to meet with him there would be “no preconditions,” he also did not walk back from any of those earlier demands.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Monday that he was on board with the president’s invitation, saying Trump “wants to meet with folks to solve problems.”
But he appeared to add several qualifications: “If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their maligned behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him.”
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 November 4.
Rouhani 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.
With the US sanctions looming, the Iranian currency has been in freefall, 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.
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.