Rouhani says some protesters should be freed, open to talks with US
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Rouhani says some protesters should be freed, open to talks with US

Iranian president says his country is still ready for talks if US lifts sanctions, which he claims were incited by Israel

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a public gathering in the city of Rafsanjan in Iran's southwest Kerman province, November 11, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a public gathering in the city of Rafsanjan in Iran's southwest Kerman province, November 11, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday called for the release of any unarmed, innocent people detained during widespread protests over fuel prices, in which hundreds have been killed by authorities, and accused Israel of “inciting” sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.

“Religious and Islamic clemency should be shown and those innocent people who protested against petrol price hikes and were not armed… should be released,” Rouhani said on state TV, according to the Reuters news agency.

He added that Iran was still ready for nuclear talks on condition the United States first lifts “unlawful” sanctions.

“If they are prepared to put aside the sanctions, we are ready to talk and negotiate, even at the level of heads of the 5+1 countries,” Rouhani said, in remarks aired live on state television.

Rouhani has long demanded the lifting of US sanctions for Iran’s return to talks under the auspices of the so-called P5+1 that reached a 2015 nuclear deal — the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

A scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in fuel prices in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, November 17, 2019. (AFP)

“We are under sanctions. This situation… is (because of) incitement by the Zionists and the region’s reactionary,” he said, referring to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“This situation… is a cruel act by the White House. We have no choice but to resist and persevere against those imposers of sanctions.

“At the same time, we have not closed the window for negotiations,” Rouhani said.

“I tell the nation of Iran that any time America is prepared to lift and put aside its wrong, cruel, unlawful, incorrect, terrorist sanctions, immediately the heads of 5+1 can meet, and we have no problem.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami speaks during a pro-government rally in the capital Tehran’s central Enghelab Square on November 25, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Reuters quoted Hossein Salami, chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as saying in a televised speech that “the aim of our enemies was to endanger the existence of the Islamic Republic by igniting riots in Iran… But America and the Zionist regime lack political wisdom about Iran and Iranians.”

The landmark 2015 deal gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

It has been at risk of falling apart since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May last year, and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it was agreed between Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany.

Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began reducing its commitments to the deal hoping to win concessions from those still party to the accord.

Its latest step back came last month, when engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordo plant south of Tehran.

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