Iran rules out talks with Trump, as US attempts to downplay appetite for war

Borzou Daragahi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a meeting in Tehran on 17 September: AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has ruled out talks with the United States in significantly timed comments that were among his most pessimistic on prospects for relations with Washington, and even the West.

Ayatollah Khamenei, the high-ranking cleric who is Iran’s ultimate spiritual and political authority, denounced the policy of “maximum pressure” pursued by the administration of Donald Trump and rejected the possibility of talks with American officials until it returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it abandoned last year.

He also dismissed the possibility of a speculated meeting between Mr Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week.

"The maximum pressure policy is worthless in front of the Iranian nation and every official in Iran collectively believes there will be no talks with America at any level," he told seminary students, according to state media.

Until sanctions reimposed following the US withdrawal from the deal last year are lifted, he said "there will be no talks at any level between officials of the Islamic Republic and Americans, neither in New York, nor elsewhere.”

The ruling out of talks follows a calamitous attack on crucial Saudi oil facilities on Saturday that took half of the country’s petroleum-producing potential temporary offline.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, currently fighting Saudi-led forces in a four year-war for control of their own country, claimed responsibility for the attack, but US officials insist it was Iran’s doing, without providing conclusive evidence.

Saudi Arabia has said its preliminary investigation suggests Iranian-made weapons were used in the attack, which left no injuries, but has been circumspect in assigning blame, calling for an international investigation overseen by the United Nations.

Iran has denied it was behind the attack, mocking the US accusations.

Both the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia’s leadership are contemplating a response, but worry that any military action could ignite a further escalation, potentially leading to damage to even more oil infrastructure and further driving up world oil prices.

Armed conflict with an enemy as unpredictable and steeped in unconventional methods of warfare as Iran could damage both the Saudi economy and that of the US less than 14 months before highly anticipated presidential and legislative elections.

Facing sanctions that are crippling its economy, the Iranian leadership has repeatedly vowed that it would respond in kind by hurting the economies of its adversaries.

The Trump administration is considering a deal proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron to grant Iran $15bn in credit to Iran to ease tensions and create breathing space for diplomacy.

But Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to downplay the possibility that France could broker such a deal, distinguishing Iran from what he described as “the dependents of the rotten system of Western capitalism.”

"We should not look to foreigners, we should not pin hopes on this or that government," he said. "We're not saying let's close the door to cooperation with the world's government. But it's one thing to rub shoulders with others and another to handle the country's affairs by relying on others. The solution to problems is inside the country."