Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday he’s ruled out any bilateral talks with the US. In an address to Iranian parliament he said the country is opposed to such negotiations in principle, given it was the Trump White House that pulled out of the 2015 JCPOA and tore up its prior commitments. 

Crucially he also affirmed that Iran is moving forward with reducing its own commitments to the terms of the nuclear deal for the third time “in the coming days”. Iran this summer blew past uranium enrichment levels previously agreed to under the terms of the JCPOA, citing crippling and aggressive US-led sanctions. Semi-official Tasnim News Agency said Iran was giving the world until Thursday for the three major European parties to the JCPOA – the UK, France, and Germany – to honor its commitments. 

Rouhani responded to widespread media reports in the wake of the G7 summit in France that Iran and the Trump administration could soon hold direct talks, and after Trump himself last week signaled openness to resumption of negotiations:

“Maybe there has been a misunderstanding. We’ve said it several times and we repeat it – there has been no decision to hold bilateral talks with the US,” said Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses Parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, via EFE/EPA.

“In principle, we don’t want bilateral talks with the United States,” he added. “If the United States lifts all sanctions, it would be possible to talk (with them) during 5+1 meetings as in the past,” he said.

This doesn’t appear at all likely, given the US on Tuesday afternoon issued fresh sanctions targeting Iran’s space agency, space research center and astronautics research institute, according a statement on the US Treasury website. As the Associated Press summarized of the newly unveiled sanctions:

The sanctions announced by the State and Treasury departments targeting the agency and two of its affiliates follow the explosion Thursday of a rocket at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center in what an Iranian official said was a technical malfunction during a test. The explosion prompted President Donald Trump to tweet a surveillance image depicting the apparent aftermath of the incident and declare that the U.S. had nothing to do with what transpired at the launch site.

But Rouhani also seemed to give a positive nod to French efforts at establishing a $15 billion line of credit in return for Tehran reversing its current uranium enrichment levels: “If Europeans can purchase our oil or pre-purchase it and we can have access to our money, that will ease the situation and we can fully implement the deal … otherwise, we will take our third step,” he warned.

President Macron is making a last ditch effort to create conditions to bring Tehran and Washington back to the nuclear negotiating table by offering Iran a $15 billion credit line and alternative trade mechanism as an incentive to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal. 

Iran’s top diplomat, FM Zarif, was said to be open to it when it was first raised in Biarritz, France over a week ago — but the plan’s progress is now conditioned on whether the White House rejects it.

A US decision is expected in the coming days. Rouhani’s address seemed set up as a warning related to Macron’s initiative that puts the ball firmly in Washington’s court.

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