Top Iranian officials all but ruled out talks with the US a day after US President Donald Trump extended his most expansive offer yet to the Islamic republic.
The US must lift sanctions on Iran if it wants to negotiate, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday.
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif said during a visit to China and Japan that “a meeting between Iran’s president and Trump is unimaginable.”
Zarif made a surprise appearance this week on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.
The reaction sets out the challenges facing Trump after he signaled that he could meet with Rouhani and perhaps ease restrictions so Tehran could use some of its oil wealth to access credit.
At a news conference before heading back to Washington from the G7 gathering on Monday, Trump said he would meet Rouhani “if the circumstances were correct or were right” to discuss their standoff over the 2015 nuclear deal that the US president abandoned.
“We are interested in solving problems in a reasonable way, but we’re not interested in taking photos,” Rouhani said in a televised speech to officials in Tehran. “The key to changing the relationship is in Washington’s hands.”
Trump’s offer echoed his outreach to North Korea. That gesture resulted in three meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but no breakthrough deal.
Unlike Kim, Rouhani is facing a complex political landscape at home, with Iranians disappointed with an economy that is sputtering under the weight of US sanctions, especially on its oil exports, and senior politicians often divided over whether to engage with Washington.
“If someone wants to have their photo taken with Hassan Rouhani, it’s not possible; it’s possible to do it with Photoshop,” the Iranian president said in an apparent reference to the idea of meeting with Trump.
Rouhani would need approval to enter talks from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has not signaled a willingness to engage with the US.
Trump’s top aides, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have argued that Khamenei, not Rouhani or Zarif, must address US demands if a lasting deal is to be struck.
Trump imposed harsh sanctions on Iran after unilaterally abandoning the nuclear deal last year, an approach that has helped fuel inflation and undermined domestic support for Rouhani’s government.
The US has said it wants new talks to address Iran’s missile program and its support for militant groups in the Middle East.
Tensions have spiked in the past few months, with Trump saying he called off military strikes on Iran at the last minute last month following Tehran’s downing of a US drone over the Persian Gulf.
The US has blamed Iran for being behind a spate of attacks on oil tankers.
Iran has also detained a UK ship in apparent retaliation for the British seizure of an Iranian tanker, which has since been released.
Iran has also withdrawn from some of its nuclear commitments under the 2015 accord and pledged further steps unless European nations step up their efforts to boost its economy.
Zarif, who met with French officials during his visit to Biarritz, cast doubt on European attempts at mediation.
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