Iran wants US talks, but respect first
ANTALYA, Turkey – As Iranians braced for the full restoration of economic sanctions imposed Monday by the Trump administration, their government signaled it would be open to talking to the United States about a new nuclear arms accord if Washington changes its approach to discussing the agreement it abandoned this year.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s top diplomat, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview over the weekend that his government would consider diplomacy if there were “foundations for a fruitful dialogue” on the nuclear reduction deal. In May, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact made with world powers and Iran. Other signatories stayed in.
“Mutual trust is not a requirement to start negotiations – mutual respect
is a requirement,” Zarif said in a wideranging, 45-minute interview.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on state TV in August that he would be willing to meet with Trump over the collapsing deal, but Rouhani questioned Trump’s “sincerity” in any possible talks. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton dismissed Rouhani’s comments as propaganda. The United States and Iran effectively broke off all diplomatic contact when Trump decided to exit the agreement.
The Trump “administration does not believe in diplomacy. It believes in imposition,” Zarif said in the interview before the White House reimposed crushing economic sanctions on Iran’s energy and banking sectors Monday.
The administration said the sanctions, lifted under the agreement Iran signed with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany when Barack Obama was president, are aimed at taking stronger steps to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, its missile activity and the billions of dollars it spends funding terrorism and sowing discord across the Middle East.
The White House did not respond to a request to address Zarif’s remarks. The State Department declined to comment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday: “The Iranian regime has a choice. It can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble. We hope a new agreement with Iran is possible.”
Rouhani said Monday that his nation faces a “war situation” and vowed that Iran “will sell” its oil. Iran’s military announced it will hold defense drills to prove its capabilities.
“Mutual respect starts with respecting yourself, with respecting your signature, respecting your own word,” Zarif said, referring to various international agreements Trump has abandoned or renegotiated.
Iran’s foreign minister spoke to USA TODAY in Antalya, a resort town on Turkey’s southwestern Mediterranean coast.
For U.S.-Iranian talks, “it doesn’t have to be a different administration, but it does require a different approach,” Zarif said.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a media firm that supports business diplomacy between Europe and Iran, said: “Zarif doesn’t say things unless he wants to signal where Iran’s thinking is . ... What’s significant is he is saying this on the eve of the sanctions being reapplied . ... Iran can’t be seen to be begging the U.S. to come back into the deal, but it is clear there is an undercurrent in the diplomacy, which is that Iran is open to this if the U.S. shows itself to be reasonable about respecting” the nuclear deal.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs, speaks with USA TODAY in Antalya, Turkey.