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 Iran nuclear reduction deal. In May, President Donald Trump pulled the United States 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 wide-ranging, 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 theoretical 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 deal 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, from Syria to Yemen.
The White House did not respond to a request to address Zarif’s remarks. The State Department declined to comment. Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “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.”
The Trump administration sanctioned more than 700 Iranian banks, companies and individuals. It issued oil sanction waivers to China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. This will allow them to keep purchasing Iran’s oil.
Rouhani said Monday 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.
At a midterm elections campaign rally Sunday in Georgia, Trump said, “Iran’s been a much different country” after he withdrew “from the horrible, one-sided Iran nuclear deal.” Trump said, “When I came in, it was just a question of how long would it take them to take over the whole Middle East.”
An earlier round of Washington-administered penalties, cutting Iran’s access to US dollars and its ability to trade certain commodities, took effect in August.
Though the US government insisted the sanctions do not target humanitarian goods, basic items have become more expensive and some lifesaving medicines are unavailable amid a currency crash and international companies pulling out of Iran.
“Mutual respect starts with respecting yourself, with respecting your signature, respecting your own word,” Zarif said, referring to various international agreements Trump abandoned or renegotiated since taking office.
Iran’s foreign minister spoke to USA TODAY in Antalya, a resort town on Turkey’s southwestern Mediterranean coast, where he attended an economic conference. He addressed how Iran’s crippled economy will cope with the sanctions and attempts by European leaders to salvage the accord without Washington.
“The current US administration is essentially asking all members of the international community to violate international law” by forcing them to break a deal that was enshrined in a United Nations Security Council resolution, Zarif said. “Iran is used to US sanctions,” he said. “We’ve had them for almost 39 years.”
Zarif discussed Iran’s reputation as a bad actor in the Middle East region and its view of Saudi Arabia, the country’s long-standing regional foe. The Saudis have come under intense scrutiny after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Riyadh state operatives in Istanbul.
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