Tehran still willing to negotiate with US

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — Iran is not ruling out negotiations with the United States (US) even after an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, the country’s Foreign Minister said in an interview released last Saturday.

Mohammed Javad Zarif told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that he would “never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognise the realities,” in an interview conducted last Friday in Tehran.

There has been growing tension between Washington and Tehran since in 2018, when US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal with Iran. The US has since reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

But Zarif suggested Iran was still willing to talk, though reiterated his country’s previous demand that first the US would have to lift sanctions.

“For us, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House, what matters are how they behave,” he said, according to Der Spiegel. “The Trump administration can correct its past, lift the sanctions and come back to the negotiating table. We’re still at the negotiating table. They’re the ones who left.” In Washington, Trump rejected Zarif’s remarks in a tweet. “Iranian Foreign Minister said Iran wants to negotiate with the US, but wants sanctions removed,” he tweeted, then added, “No Thanks!”

Meanwhile last Saturday, Ali Asghar Zarean, an aide to Iran’s nuclear chief, said Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile has exceeded 1,200 kilogrammes, which is far beyond the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers allowed.

“Iran is increasing its stockpile of the enriched uranium with full speed,” he said. The claim has not been verified by the United Nations’ (UN) nuclear watchdog.

Following the US drone strike on January 3 that killed Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any of the deal’s limitations to its enrichment activities. It then retaliated January 8, launching ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing American troops, causing injuries but no fatalities among soldiers there.

In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium had grown to 372.3 kilogrammes as of November 3. The nuclear deal limited the stockpile to 202.8 kilogrammes.

Iran has routinely vowed to begin enriching its stockpile of uranium to higher levels closer to weapons grade if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for the nuclear accord following the US decision to withdraw from the agreement and restore crippling sanctions. European countries opposed the US withdrawal and have repeatedly urged Iran to abide by the deal.

Under the agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Trump has maintained that the 2015 nuclear deal needs to be renegotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile programme or its involvement in regional conflicts. The other signatories to the nuclear deal — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to keep it alive.

Zarif did suggest Iran was also still prepared for conflict with the US, though was not specific.

“The US has inflicted great harm on the Iranian people,” he said. “The day will come when they will have to compensate for that. We have a lot of patience.”