President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran favours talks with the US if it lifts sanctions against the Islamic republic, despite his top diplomat turning down a meeting with US president Donald Trump.
Rouhani said ‘peace with Iran is the mother of all peace’ and ‘war with Iran is the mother of all wars’ as he defended a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
‘Iran favours talks and negotiations and, if the US really wants to talk, before anything else it should lift all sanctions,’ Rouhani said in remarks aired live on state television.
Tensions between Iran and the US have been rising since Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and began imposing sanctions on it as part of a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.
Rouhani, speaking after meeting with his top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Iran was ready for talks regardless of whether or not the US was party to the deal.
‘Whether they want to come into the JCPOA or not, it’s up to them,’ said Rouhani, referring to the accord known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
‘All sanctions should be lifted so that there will be no criminals facing us,’ he said, accusing the US of committing acts of ‘economic terrorism’ for blocking food and medicine imports.
In response, the US ambassador on disarmament Robert Wood said: ‘Iran simply needs to make up its mind to decide what it wants to do’.
‘My president has said he is willing to sit down and have a discussion with Iran. We are not sure Iran wants to have that discussion,’ he said in answer to a question from AFP on the sidelines of a conference in Geneva.
However Rouhani described as ‘weird’ the US approach of calling for negotiations and then slapping sanctions on Zarif.
‘So how should we negotiate?’ he said on Tuesday. ‘The person in charge of negotiations is the foreign minister. He must talk to you.’
Trump has said publicly several times he is willing to hold talks with Iran even as he lambasts its leadership as corrupt, incompetent and a threat to regional security and US interests.
Twelve months on from the US withdrawal, Iran responded by suspending some of its commitments under the nuclear deal.
The situation threatened to spiral out of control with ships attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized.
At the height of the crisis, Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after its forces shot down a US drone.
Rouhani, with Zarif sitting beside him, defended the foreign minister who has faced criticism from hardliners over his role in the deal ultimately abandoned by the Americans.
‘We had so many economic victories (in the wake of the deal) that it enraged some people,’ he said.
Rouhani said the US made a mistake when it thought ‘everything will be over’ for Iran after ‘some planned a street riot’ in December 2017.
At that time, Iran was rocked by days of deadly protests reportedly sparked by austerity measures.
‘This caused Americans to be trapped. They thought Iran’s system is weakened,’ he said.
‘They said, ‘One more push. Iran has reached a stage where if we give it another push, everything will be over’.’
This push by ‘warmongers’ deceived Trump and led to his decision to leave the JCPOA, he said.
Rouhani said in any talks the Americans should be ready to negotiate fairly.
‘Peace for peace and oil for oil,’ he said. ‘You cannot say that you won’t allow our oil to be exported.
‘It cannot be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us.’
Iran has also been locked in a high-seas standoff with US ally Britain since Royal Marines helped to seize a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on July 4.
Weeks later, its Revolutionary Guards impounded a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz—the conduit for much of the world’s crude.
Zarif has confirmed reports he declined an offer from a US senator to meet Trump at the White House last month despite the threat of sanctions within two weeks.
The US imposed its sanctions against Zarif on Wednesday, targeting any assets he has in America and squeezing his ability to function as a globe-trotting diplomat.
Separately on Tuesday, Iran’s military unveiled three precision-guided missiles, with Defence Minister brigadier-general Amir Hatami saying they showed the country was ready to defend itself in the face of US ‘viciousness and conspiracies’.
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