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Rouhani says talks with US possible any moment after ‘apology’

While Iran’s hard-liners have persistently warned against any compromise with the Donald Trump administration, President Hassan Rouhani said he is ready for talks even before the upcoming US presidential elections.

At a Cabinet meeting in Tehran June 24, President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran is open to negotiations “as soon as the White House and Congress return from the wrong path … offer an apology and compensate [for] the loss they inflicted upon Iran.” Rouhani was referring to the US withdrawal from the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which US President Donald Trump walked away in May 2018. 

“We have no problem [with negotiations]. [The Americans] are the ones who broke the table,” Rouhani added, expressing readiness for talks even before the November US presidential elections if the Trump administration rejoins the JCPOA. The Iranian president appeared to be responding to the latest overture from his American counterpart, as he advised Iranians to sit down with him for a deal without pinning hopes on his possible defeat in the vote.   

As opposed to Rouhani’s stance, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who maintains the ultimate authority over sensitive foreign policy decisions, has publicly dismissed talks with the Trump administration as “poison.” And last week, the newly inaugurated Iranian parliament dominated by Rouhani rivals made it clear that a compromise with the United States is “absolutely forbidden.”

Nonetheless, the question of a Tehran-Washington dialogue is not the only challenge facing the fragile nuclear deal. Uncertainty is already hovering over the prospects of Iran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). During his televised address, Rouhani warned that a “firm response” will be an easy task in reaction to the agency’s resolution last week, which demanded that Tehran allow inspectors into two contentious nuclear facilities. The resolution — triggered by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, three out of the six remaining signatories to the JCPOA — has raised suspicions about possible undeclared nuclear material at the two locations.

Despite stressing that Iran remains open to any “legal” inspection by the nuclear watchdog, Rouhani suggested that access to those two sites will continue to be denied. The issue, according to the Iranian president, is a 20-year-old file that the IAEA is now “exhuming” under pressure from Israel and the United States, two “tricksters” that he feared may “taint” the watchdog’s independence.

The ongoing deadlock over the JCPOA is also being further complicated by an unrelenting US push to extend an Iran arms embargo that under the accord will expire in a few months. The Rouhani government has been capitalizing significantly on embargo removal as one of the few concrete outcomes from the deal.

As Washington presses members of the UN Security Council on extending the ban, Tehran is hoping that during a series of council meetings starting June 24, its allies China and Russia will exercise their veto powers to salvage the JCPOA and impose failure on the US plan. To that end, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow last week for assurances that the Islamic Republic will enjoy the Kremlin’s backing in the face of the White House.

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