President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday suggested Iran may be willing to hold talks if the United States showed it respect, but said Tehran will not be “bullied” into negotiations with Washington, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Iran and the US have been drawn into starker confrontation in the past month, a year after Washington pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting international sanctions.
Washington re-imposed sanctions last year and ratchetted them up in May, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil. In recent weeks it has also hinted at military confrontation, saying it was sending extra forces to the Middle East to respond to an Iranian threat.
US President Donald Trump says the 2015 nuclear deal was not strong enough and he wants to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement. Some US officials have spoken of the possibility of new talks.
Trump said on Monday: “It [Iran] has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership… We aren’t looking for regime change – I just want to make that clear.”
Fars news agency quoted Rouhani as saying: “We are for logic and talks if [the other side] sits respectfully at the negotiating table and follows international regulations, not if it issues an order to negotiate.”
“We have shown that we do not submit to bullying and covetous powers,” he said.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday Iran would not negotiate with Washington. Rouhani had previously signalled talks might be possible if sanctions were lifted.
In Saturday’s speech to a group of Iranian athletes, Rouhani noted Trump’s recent remarks and suggested they were a climb-down from statements last year that encouraged regime change in Iran.
“The same enemy which declared its aim last year to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran today explicitly states that it does not want to do anything to [our] system,” Rouhani said.
“If we remain hopeful in the war with America, we will win.”
Fears of conflict erupting in the Gulf region have grown in recent weeks amid fiery rhetoric from both sides.
He said the purpose of this deployment is “mostly protective”, and is meant to increase the security of forces already in the region.
Does Saudi Arabia have support to face Iran?
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reiterated his country’s rejection of the US’s increase in military deployments to the region, as the US said Iran was likely behind attacks on oil tankers off United Arab Emirates (UAE) coast earlier this month.
On May 12, the UAE said four commercial ships off the coast of Fujairah, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs, were “subjected to sabotage operations”.
The attack caused “significant damage to the structure of the two vessels”, according to Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih.
Tehran has strongly denied involvement in the incidents.
A three-day summit in Saudi Arabia that focused on regional security issues this week came to a close on Saturday, with Riyadh urging leaders to stop Iran’s “naked aggression” in the region.
In a tweet just before the start of the summit, the Saudi king vowed to confront “aggressive threats and subversive activities”.