By Parisa Hafezi and Bate Felix
DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has said it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues.
But Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the United States withdrew from the nuclear pact with world powers in May 2018.
“We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani said in his Sunday speech.
In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper, Pompeo dismissed Rouhani’s idea as “the same offer that he offered to John F. Kerry and Barack Obama,” referring to the former U.S. secretary of state and president.
“President Trump will obviously make the final decision. But this is a path that the previous administration had gone down and it led to the (Iran nuclear deal) which this administration, President Trump and I both believe was a disaster,” Pompeo said.
Confrontations between Washington and Tehran have escalated, culminating in an aborted plan for U.S. air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off the retaliatory U.S. air strike at the last minute.
Calling for dialogue among all to resume, France, Britain and Germany – parties to the 2015 pact – said on Sunday they were preoccupied by the escalation of tensions in the Gulf region and the risk the nuclear deal might fall apart.
“We believe that the time has come to act responsibly and to look for ways to stop the escalation of tension and resume dialogue,” they said in a joint statement that was released by the French president’s office.
Despite calling for talks with Iranian leaders, Trump said on Wednesday that U.S. sanctions on Iran would soon be increased “substantially”.
Existing U.S. sanctions have targeted Iran’s main foreign revenue stream from crude oil exports, which Trump in May moved to try to eliminate entirely.
In reaction, Tehran said it would scale back its commitments under the deal, under which it had agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions that had crippled its economy.
‘CONSIDER POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES’
Defying a warning by the European parties to the pact to continue its full compliance, Tehran has amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted and has started to enrich uranium above the 3.67% permitted by the agreement.
“The risks are such that it is necessary for all stakeholders to pause, and consider the possible consequences of their actions,” France, Britain and Germany, which have been trying to salvage the pact by shielding Tehran’s economy from sanctions, said in their statement.
Iranian clerical rulers have said that Tehran will further decrease its commitments if Europeans fail to fulfill their promises to guarantee Iran’s interests under the deal.
The nuclear deal aimed to extend the amount of time it would theoretically take Iran to produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb – so-called breakout time – from several months to a minimum of one year until 2025.
Iran denies ever having considered developing atomic weapons.
There have been two signs in the past week that the United States may be signaling greater openness to diplomacy.
U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday that Washington had decided for now not to sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s June 24 statement he would be blacklisted that week.
On Sunday, U.S. officials said they had given Zarif a U.S. visa to attend a U.N. meeting this week. Iran’s mission to the United Nations said he had arrived in New York.
Pompeo told the Washington Post he had granted the visa but restricted Zarif’s movements while in New York, allowing him only to travel between U.N. headquarters and the Iranian mission six blocks away, and to the residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador.
Pompeo declined comment when asked whether he or other U.S. officials would try to speak with Zarif this week or at the U.N. General Assembly in September, the Washington Post reported.
While accusing Zarif of exploiting U.S. freedom of the press to “spread malign propaganda,” the U.S. secretary of state told the newspaper he would accept any offer to appear on Iranian television.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Bate Felix in Paris; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)