Rouhani: Tehran hasn’t closed window on talks with US
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Rouhani: Tehran hasn’t closed window on talks with US

Amid rising tensions and bellicose statements from Iranian generals, president says talks can begin ‘when US lifts unfair sanctions’

In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 4, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 4, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran hasn’t closed the window on talks with the US, but reiterated his government’s standing condition that the Trump administration lift sanctions imposed on Iran before any negotiations can take place.

Rouhani’s statement was posted on the Iranian presidency’s website Wednesday. It quoted him as saying there’s no barrier from the Iranian side for meeting with the heads of the 5+1 nations who signed the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

The numbers are a reference to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members, plus Germany.

Rouhani said that “whenever the US lifts the unfair sanctions, the heads of 5+1 nations can immediately meet and we have no problem” with that.

He said Iran has no other option but to defy those who imposed sanctions on Tehran, “but we have not closed the window on talks.”

In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 4, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Rouhani’s comments came amid a series of recent developments, including bellicose statements from senior Iranian military figures threatening the US and Israel, an alleged Iranian missile attack on Israel launched from Syria, and a news report detailing how Iran allegedly ordered a damaging cruise missile and drone strike on a Saudi oil facility.

A separate CNN report Wednesday cited US defense and administration officials warning of Iranian forces and weapons being moved in ways that appeared to place them in position to attack US forces and interests in the Middle East.

Last week, Iranian Gen. Allahnoor Noorollahi warned that Iran’s missile arsenals are aimed at 21 American military bases in the Middle East and the country is prepared for “the greatest war against the greatest enemy.”

In the November 29 speech, Noorollahi also said that Iran had the ability to raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground.

IRGC General Allahnoor Noorollahi in a speech at Bushehr in southern Iran on November 29, 2019, broadcast on Bushehr TV. (MEMRI screen capture)

Noorollahi serves as a top adviser to the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Officers College. His speech was broadcast on Bushehr TV, and was reported on and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Noorollahi’s comments came just days after the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s top commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, threatened to destroy Israel, the US and other countries, as he addressed a pro-government demonstration denouncing last month’s violent protests in Iran over a fuel price hike.

Salami accused the US, Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia of stoking the unrest.

“If you cross our red line, we will destroy you,” he said. “We will not leave any move unanswered.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard chief Gen. Hossein Salami speaks in a ceremony displaying pieces of an American drone shot down by the Guard in the Strait of Hormuz in June, in Tehran, Iran, September 21, 2019. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

On November 19, Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the Revolutionary Guards, fired four missiles at Israel from Syria, according to the Israel Defense Forces. All four were shot down, and Israel responded a day later with a punishing round of airstrikes against Iranian and Syrian targets.

At least 23 combatants were killed, 16 of them likely Iranians, according to a Syrian war monitor.

A devastating September 14 combined drone and cruise missile barrage on two Saudi facilities briefly knocked out half of the kingdom’s oil production.

Although Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, Israel, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind the attack. Tehran denies the allegation.

In this September 20, 2019, file photo, taken during a trip organized by the Saudi information ministry, workers fix the damage in Aramco’s oil separator at a processing facility after the September 14 attack blamed on Iran in Abqaiq near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

In an interview published last month, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the US military’s Central Command, told the New York Times that Iran remains on track to carry out a large-scale attack in the region.

“My judgment is that it is very possible they will attack again,” McKenzie assessed.

The lack of serious consequences to the attack on Saudi Arabia has led Israeli officials to warn an emboldened Tehran could seek a major attack on the Jewish state soon.

Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from Syria.

Gen. Kenneth ‘Frank’ McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, speaks next to a picture of the operation targeting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a press briefing October 30, 2019 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

Tensions have risen in the Persian Gulf since May last year when US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the nuclear deal between major powers and Iran and began reimposing crippling sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure” meant to force Iran’s regime to scale back its ballistic missile program and military interventions in Arab states.

Tensions flared again this May when Iran began reducing its own commitments and violated the nuclear deal and the US deployed military assets to the region.

Since then, ships have been attacked, drones downed, and oil tankers seized in the region in attacks widely attributed to Iran.

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