Iran’s top diplomats have said they will not enter into negotiations until the US stops its campaign of “maximum pressure” on Tehran, making bilateral talks between leaders attending the meeting of United Nations General Assembly this week highly unlikely.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told The Independent that “maximum pressure” from the United States has produced “maximum resistance” from Iran, and that Tehran will continue to resist.
Speaking at the Iranian mission to the UN in New York, he said “to get real negotiations started, this economic war has to end,” in reference to US sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and dramatically reduced its oil sales.
“And to end this economic war, we first need a ceasefire in order to do real negotiations and find sustainable solutions,” Mr Araghchi added.
“Not only us, but no country will negotiate under pressure,” he added.
This year’s UNGA meeting comes amid fraught relations in the Gulf following a 14 September attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, which the kingdom and its allies in the West blamed on Iran.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack and Tehran has denied it was involved.
But the US has said it has evidence that the strikes were launched from inside Iran and will be deploying troops to Saudi Arabia in response.
Asked what Tehran would do if the maximum pressure from Washington turns into military pressure, Mr Araghchi said: “Then we will resist militarily.”
Tehran has passed on messages to the White House that they are not interested in starting a war but if they are attack, the response will not be limited.
Messages are sent through Swiss diplomats, who have been intermediaries between Tehran and Washington since the two broke ties after the 1979 revolution.
US President Donald Trump has long pursued a meeting with Iranian leaders in the same style as his famous meetings with the North Korean leader, leading to speculation over whether the UNGA meeting would have provided a forum for the two leaders to meet.
Tehran has rejected participating in a bilateral meeting without any “substance”.
The political cost of such a meeting, without any concessions from Washington, would be too high for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Even the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who was recently invited to meet President Trump at the White House by Republican Senator Rand Paul, did not take the risk of taking up the offer.
Otherwise without a ceasefire and under pressure, no country will negotiate and neither will we
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi
Mr Araghchi suggested, however, that Mr Rouhani would be willing to meet with Mr Trump in a bilateral setting if the US returned to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
A satellite image showing damage to oil/gas Saudi Aramco infrastructure at Abqaiq, in Saudi Arabia in this handout picture released by the US Government (USGovernment/Handout via REUTERS)
“If Trump returns to the JCPOA, we will again negotiate with the United States in the format of a P5+1 meeting”, he said.
Tensions have been high since President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and gradually re-imposed sanctions on all major industries in Iran, including oil and petrochemicals exports which are a major source of income for the oil-rich state.
Iran has stayed in the deal with the other signatories, but has started to gradually reduce compliance in the past few months.
French President Emmanuel Macron has started mediation efforts between Iran and the US, in the hope of reducing tensions and convincing Iran to stay in the nuclear deal.
Mr Araghchi, who was one of the top negotiators of the Iran nuclear deal, explained: “Mr Macron and Rouhani’s plan is to have a ceasefire to be able to conduct real extensive negotiations and find a long term solution.”
He added: “This is the path and the roadmap that we believe will work.”
“Otherwise without a ceasefire and under pressure, no country will negotiate and neither will we.”
The cornerstone of the Macron plan is to open a $15 billion line of credit for Iran as a way to let it pre-sell its oil for the next few months, in exchange for Tehran’s full compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal.
“If we get to sell our oil, we will return to full compliance of the deal,” said Mr Araghchi, signalling that the $15 billion line of credit could be an acceptable “cease-fire” by Iran.
“But meeting with Trump is a different discussion,” Mr Araghchi added.
Iran nevertheless seems to be preparing for a potential second term of the Trump presidency.
Asked whether Tehran is ready to stay in this resistance mode for the next two to six years, considering Trump may very well win re-election, Mr Araghchi said: “We will continue ultimate resistance in the face of maximum pressure. If they put maximum pressure aside, the path to negotiation will open.”
President Rouhani is set to meet the French president for an hour-long meeting soon after he arrives in New York and their two foreign ministers are also set to have a long meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA, sources have told The Independent.