The Trump administration is ready to begin talks with Iran “with no preconditions”, the US secretary of state declared on Sunday in a move that may help to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Mike Pompeo said at a press conference in Switzerland that he was ready to talk with his Iranian counterparts but warned that the US pressure campaign against Iran would not let up.
“We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions. We’re ready to sit down with them. But the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue,” he said.
The remarks came after Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, said on Saturday he would welcome talks if the US treated Iran with respect. “We are for logic and talks if [the US] sits respectfully at the negotiating table,” he said, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.
US president Donald Trump inflamed relations between the US and Iran by withdrawing from a nuclear deal agreed by the Obama administration and ramping up sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, struck a tough tone in an interview with ABC News on Sunday. He warned there would be “consequences” from the US economic pressure campaign and said Iran did not “differentiate between economic war and military war”.
“The US is engaged in war against us, and a war is painful to our participants. We have a very clear notion that in a war, nobody wins. In a war, everybody loses; the loss of some will be greater than the loss of others,” he said.
Mr Zarif told ABC News talks were “not very likely, because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure”. He added: “The only thing that works with Iran is respect”.
Tensions between the US and Iran have ratcheted up further in recent weeks as the US has begun moving troops to the Middle East and blamed the Iranians for the sabotage of four oil tankers in the Gulf.
John Bolton, the hawkish US national security adviser, has sought to pin responsibility on Iran and said in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday there was “no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who was responsible for this”.
Mr Trump has sent mixed signals on his stance towards Iran, variously threatening “the official end of Iran” while also telling the government in Tehran he was not seeking regime change and was willing to negotiate.
“I want to get along with everybody, if it’s possible. I even want to get along with Iran, and Iran wants to talk,” the US president said on Thursday.
On Sunday, Mr Pompeo told reporters the president had been saying he was open to talks “for an awfully long time”.
“We’re certainly prepared to have that conversation when the Iranians conclude they want to behave like a normal nation,” he said.
Abbas Mousavi, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, responded to Mr Pompeo’s remarks by saying what mattered for the Islamic Republic was a change in the US stance and behaviour towards Iran rather than a “word game”, according to domestic media.
He said Mr Pompeo’s insistence on the US policy of maximum pressure on Iran showed the Trump administration was following “its previous incorrect approach” towards the country, local media reported.