US President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Iran against further uranium enrichment but left open the possibility the US could lift sanctions to pave the way to a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani.
Asked if he would ease crippling sanctions to help bring about a meeting with the Iranian leader, Trump replied “we will see what happens,” while warning it would be “very, very dangerous” for Iran to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles.
Trump said he believes Iran would like to make a deal because “they have tremendous financial difficulty, and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher.”
“We cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon, and they never will have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
“If they are thinking about enrichment, they can forget about it. Because it’s going to be very dangerous for them to enrich. Very, very dangerous, okay?”
Rouhani has dismissed meeting with Trump, insisting that Washington must lift the sanctions it has imposed on Iran.
“The Americans must understand that bellicosity and warmongering don’t work in their favor. Both… must be abandoned,” Rouhani told his cabinet earlier Wednesday.
“The enemy imposed ‘maximum pressure’ on us. Our response is to resist and confront this,” he said, referring to the US sanctions.
Trump has used sanctions to step up pressure on Tehran since he pulled the United States out of a 2015 deal under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions.
But speaking the day after he fired John Bolton, an architect of the “maximum pressure” strategy, Trump said his administration was dealing with both Iran and North Korea “at a very high level.”
“I think Iran has a tremendous potential. They are incredible people. We are not looking for regime change. We hope that we can make a deal. If we can’t make a deal, that’s fine, too.”
According to a Wednesday report in Bloomberg News, Trump on Monday discussed the possibility of easing sanctions to woo Rouhani toward a possible meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month. Bolton’s firing came after he protested the idea, according to the report.
Rouhani told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Wednesday that talks with the United States would be “meaningless” unless it lifts sanctions.
The White House on Tuesday said Trump was willing to meet Rouhani without preconditions while maintaining its campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran.
Rouhani has had a series of phone conversations in recent weeks with Macron.
The French leader has been spearheading European efforts to salvage the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been at risk of falling apart since Trump unilaterally withdrew from it and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
“As Iran’s government, parliament and people see it, negotiating with the United States is meaningless as long as sanctions are in place,” Rouhani told Macron, according to the government’s website.
“If agreements with Europe are finalized, we’re ready to return to JCPOA commitments, and a meeting between Iran and the 5+1 is only possible when sanctions are lifted,” he added.
The nuclear deal was struck in 2015 between Iran and six major powers — the UN Security Council’s permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany.
Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began taking steps back from the deal.
It has since increased its enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the deal’s 300-kilogram threshold and boosted its purity above the 3.67-percent limit as well as firing up advanced centrifuges.
Despite the rollback, Rouhani said last week that Tehran and the European powers had been getting closer to an agreement on a way to resolve key issues.
On Wednesday, he told Macron that the steps Iran has taken so far in reducing its commitments were reversible.
“Iran’s third step is under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and also has the potential to be reversed,” he said.