US says prepared to talk to Iran ‘with no preconditions’
Bellinzona (Switzerland), June 2 (PTI/AFP): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said his country was ready to talk with Tehran “with no preconditions”, but with no indication lifting sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme is on the table.
The top US diplomat, who is considered a hawk on the Iran file, appeared to soften the US stance somewhat following weeks of escalating tensions with Tehran.
“We are prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions,” Pompeo said in Switzerland, which in the absence of US-Iranian diplomatic ties represents Washington’s interests in the Islamic Republic.
“We are ready to sit down with them,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis at the impressive medieval Castelgrande castle in Bellinzona, nestled in the Alps in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region.
He was reacting to comments made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday insisting that his country would not be “bullied” into talks with the United States, and that any dialogue between the two countries needed to be grounded in “respect”.
But Pompeo appeared to immediately back-pedal on the offer to have condition-free talks with Iran, stating that Washington was “certainly prepared to have (a) conversation when the Iranians will prove they are behaving as a normal nation.”
Pompeo’s comments mark the first time the Trump administration has offered no-strngs-attached talks since the recent escalation began in the wake of the US withdrawal from a hard-won 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
But Pompeo stressed that “the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”
Pompeo himself last year laid out 12 draconian demands he said Iran would need to meet before reaching a “new deal” with the United States, essentially addressing every aspect of Iran’s missile program and what Washington calls its “malign influence” across the region.
Last month it deployed an aircraft carrier task force, B-52 bombers and an amphibious assault ship to the Gulf, along with additional troops against what Washington’s leaders believed was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets.
But at the same time, Trump has over the past week toned down the rhetoric, saying Washington does not seek “regime change” in Iran and holding out the possibility of talks.
He said the US was merely “looking for no nuclear weapons,” adding that “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal.
Swiss Foreign Minister Cassis meanwhile voiced his country’s readiness to play the role of “intermediary” between the two countries.
Pompeo did not respond directly to this request, but he rejected the notion that US sanctions were causing suffering, instead blaming the leadership in Tehran.