Iran's Rouhani says they have not closed window on talks with US
Iran is willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States first drops sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, after a fuel price hike sparked deadly violence ahead of elections. Rouhani has long demanded the lifting of US sanctions for Iran's return to talks under the auspices of the so-called P5+1 that reached the deal -- the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran hasn't closed the window on talks with the U.S. but reiterated his government's standing condition that the Trump administration lift sanctions imposed on Iran before any negotiations can take place.
Rouhani's statement was posted on the Iranian presidency's website Wednesday. It quoted him as saying there's no barrier from the Iranian side for meeting with the heads of 5+1 nations.
That's a reference to the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members, including the U.S.
Rouhani says that "whenever the U.S. lifts the unfair sanctions, the heads of 5+1 nations can immediately meet and we have no problem" with that.
He said Iran has no other option but to defy those who imposed sanctions on Tehran, "but we have not closed the window on talks."
"We are under sanctions. This situation... is (because of) incitement by the Zionists and the region's reactionary," he said, referring to Iran's regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia.
His remarks came after France and Germany raised the possibility of triggering a mechanism in the deal that could lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions.
- 'CRUEL ACT' -
Rouhani described the sanctions as "a cruel act by the White House".
"We have no choice but to resist and persevere," he said. "At the same time, we have not closed the window for negotiations.
"I tell the nation of Iran that any time America is prepared to lift and put aside its wrong, cruel, unlawful, incorrect, terrorist sanctions, immediately the heads of 5+1 can meet and we have no problem."
The landmark 2015 deal gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
It has been at risk of falling apart since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May last year and reimposed sanctions.
Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it was agreed between Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.
Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began reducing its commitments to the deal hoping to win concessions from those still party to the accord.
Its latest step back came last month, when engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant south of Tehran.
In his remarks, Rouhani said his government strived to remain in the nuclear deal despite "pressures" that were on it.
ROUHANI CALLS FOR RELEASE OF INNOCENT, UNARMED PROTESTERS
Rouhani called for the release of any unarmed and innocent people who were detained during protests against gasoline price hikes, after two weeks of violent clashes.
The unrest, which began on Nov. 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300%, spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.
"Religious and Islamic clemency should be shown and those innocent people who protested against petrol price hikes and were not armed ... should be released," Rouhani said in a televised speech.
Iran's clerical rulers have blamed "thugs" linked to its opponents in exile and the country's main foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
"The aim of our enemies was to endanger the existence of the Islamic republic by igniting riots in Iran ... But America and the Zionist regime (Israel) lack political wisdom about Iran and Iranians," said chief commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami in a televised speech.
Tehran has given no official death toll, but Amnesty International said on Monday it had documented the deaths of at least 208 protesters, making the disturbances the bloodiest since the 1979 uprising that swept Shi'ite clerics to power.
A lawmaker said last week that about 7,000 protesters had been arrested. The judiciary has rejected the figures.
The Intelligence Ministry said last week that at least eight people linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been arrested during the unrest, which was snuffed out last week by a security crackdown.