First lift sanctions, then let’s talk: Rouhani

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president back-pedalled yesterday on possible talks with Donald Trump, saying the United States (US) president must first lift sanctions imposed on Tehran, otherwise a meeting between the two would be a mere photo op.

Hassan Rouhani’s change of heart came a day after Trump said on Monday that there’s a “really good chance” the two could meet on their nuclear impasse after a surprise intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron during the G7 summit to try to bring Washington and Tehran together after decades of conflict.

“Without the US’ withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development,” Rouhani said in a televised speech yesterday, adding that Washington “holds the key” as to what happens next.

“If someone intends to make it as just a photo op with Rouhani, that is not possible,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Rouhani expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis following America’s pullout from the nuclear deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a conference in Tehran. PHOTO: AP

“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,” he had said. “Even if the odds of success are not 90 per cent but are 20 per cent or 10 per cent, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”

Rouhani also shielded his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, against criticism from hard-liners over his surprise visit last Sunday to France’s Biarritz, where leaders of the Group of Seven rich democracies were meeting.

Iran’s English-language Press TV issued a vague, anonymous statement later on Monday, rejecting Macron’s initiative.

Macron said he hoped Trump and Rouhani could meet within weeks in hopes of saving the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers, but which the US unilaterally withdrew from last year. Under the deal, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Since the US pullout from the nuclear deal, Iran has lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the accord as the US re-imposed and escalated sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude abroad, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani’s U-turn can be seen as a result of pressure from hard-liners in the Iranian establishment who oppose taking a softer tone toward the West.

The hard-line Javan daily, which is close to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, warned Rouhani in large font on its front page yesterday. “Mr. Rouhani, photo diplomacy will not develop the country.”