Trump rejects Iran talks opening as enriched uranium stockpile swells
US president rebuffs overture for negotiations if sanctions lifted; nuclear official says Tehran has almost three times as much enriched material as allowed under nuke deal
US President Donald Trump turned down the possibility of talks with Tehran after Iran’s top diplomat said his country was still willing to negotiate over its nuclear program if Washington lifts sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that he would “never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognize the realities,” in an interview published Saturday.
“Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed,” Trump tweeted Saturday night. “No Thanks!”
He later repeated the tweet in Persian.
Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed. @FoxNews @OANN No Thanks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2020
There has been growing tension between Washington and Tehran since in 2018, when Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran. The US has since reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Tensions hit a boiling point after the US killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this month, though the sides stepped away from armed conflict after no Americans were killed in an Iranian reprisal missile strike on a US base in Iraq.
Zarif suggested Iran was still willing to talk to the US, though reiterated his country’s previous demand that first the US would have to lift sanctions.
“For us, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House, what matters is how they behave,” he said, according to Der Spiegel, which conducted the interview in Tehran Friday. “The Trump administration can correct its past, lift the sanctions and come back to the negotiating table. We’re still at the negotiating table. They’re the ones who left.”
Meanwhile on Saturday, Ali Asghar Zarean, an aide to Iran’s nuclear chief, said Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile has exceeded 1,200 kilograms (2,646 pounds), which is far beyond the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers allowed.
“Iran is increasing its stockpile of the enriched uranium with full speed,” he said. The claim has not been verified by the UN’s nuclear watchdog.
Following the US drone strike on January 3 that killed Revolutionary Guard general Soleimani, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any of the deal’s limitations to its enrichment activities.
In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium had grown to 372.3 kilograms (821 pounds) as of November 3. The nuclear deal limited the stockpile to 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).
Iran has routinely vowed to begin enriching its stockpile of uranium to higher levels closer to weapons grade if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for the nuclear accord following the US decision to withdraw from the agreement and restore crippling sanctions. European countries opposed the US withdrawal and have repeatedly urged Iran to abide by the deal.
Under the agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
Trump has maintained that the 2015 nuclear deal needs to be renegotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts. The other signatories to the nuclear deal — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to keep it alive.
Zarif did suggest Iran was also still prepared for conflict with the US, though was not specific.
“The US has inflicted great harm on the Iranian people,” he said. “The day will come when they will have to compensate for that. We have a lot of patience.”