September 26, 2019 / 6:17 PM / 3 months ago

Iran's Rouhani says wider talks with U.S. possible if 2015 deal implemented

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iran can discuss other issues with the United States providing its 2015 nuclear deal with six powers is fully implemented, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday, adding that Tehran’s missile capabilities were not negotiable.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

“First, the deal should be fully implemented ... meaning that sanctions should be lifted and America should return to the nuclear deal ... and then other issues can be discussed as well,” Rouhani said.

“We want America to remove its preconditions for talking to Iran, including its ‘maximum pressure’ policy against the Iranian nation” before any talks can be possible, he said at a news conference in New York during the United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders.

The U.S.-Iranian confrontation has ratcheted up since last year, when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy to force Tehran to renegotiate the pact.

Iran refuses to hold any talks with the United States unless Washington lifts sanctions on Tehran.

In retaliation for Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually scaled back its nuclear commitments since May. However, Rouhani said Tehran’s measures were reversible if the European parties to the pact carried out their promises to shield Iran’s economy from U.S. penalties.

“The European parties have proved their inability or lack of determination ... to keep the deal alive in practice. .. They want to save the pact, but they want Iran to pay the cost for it,” said Rouhani.

Trump wants to go beyond the deal to further curb Iran’s nuclear program, halt its ballistic missile work and end its support for proxy forces in the Middle East.

But Rouhani, stating Iran’s official stance, said Iran’s defensive missile program was non-negotiable.

The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities on Sept. 14 on Iran, instead of the Yemeni Iran-aligned Houthi group that claimed responsibility.

Iran has distanced itself from the attacks, warning that it was ready for a “full-fledged” war.

“We are innocent and had no involvement in the attack ... therefore we should not provide evidence to prove it. Those who blame Iran should provide evidence,” Rouhani said on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States wants a peaceful resolution to tensions with Iran but that rests with Tehran. “In the end, it will be up to the Iranians to make that decision,” Pompeo told a news conference in New York.

Rouhani also touched on the subject of swaps of U.S. and Iranian prisoners, saying his country had in the past held talks with Washington over the issue.

He pointed to the release in June of a Lebanese citizen with U.S. residency who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying for the United States.

“After his release, Americans thanked us but failed to reciprocate. Therefore, the ball is in the American’s court now,” Rouhani said.

On Wednesday, Trump took steps to bar senior Iranian officials and their immediate family from entering the United States as immigrants or non-immigrants, the White House said in a proclamation.

Rouhani played down the impact of Trump’s move, saying “Iranian officials have no desire to travel to America. We only come here for the U.N. events that should not be banned by America.”

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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