Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Donald Trump non-committal on easing Iran sanctions

Iran's President Rouhani says he will not negotiate with Washington while sanctions are being enforced

US President Donald said 'we'll see what happnes' when asked about the easing of sanctions on Iran. AFP
US President Donald said 'we'll see what happnes' when asked about the easing of sanctions on Iran. AFP

US President Donald Trump left open the possibility that the US could ease sanctions on Iran, saying on Wednesday that he believed Tehran wanted to strike a deal on its nuclear programme.

“We’ll see what happens,” Mr Trump said of the possibility that the US could ease up on its “maximum pressure” campaign.

Mr Trump on Tuesday fired his hard-line national security adviser, John Bolton, prompting speculation that Washington’s policy towards adversaries such as Iran could ease.

Among the five shortlisted for Mr Bolton's position is said to be Brian Hook, the US's special envoy on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday urged the US to “put warmongers aside”, signalling approval of Mr Trump’s abrupt dismissal of Mr Bolton, who had for years been critical of Tehran.

Mr Rouhani said Tehran would not negotiate with Washington while sanctions on his country were still being enforced.

Mr Trump said on Wednesday that it would be “very very dangerous” for Iran to enrich uranium, a key step in developing a nuclear weapon.

“I do believe they’d like to make a deal,” he said. “If they do, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s great too.

“They have tremendous financial difficulty and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher.”

Mr Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said the president is open to meeting Mr Rouhani, possibly at the UN General Assembly this month.

After months of increasing tension between the two countries, Israel this week accused Iran of having an undisclosed nuclear weapons development site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency called in recent days for more co-operation from Tehran after diplomats said uranium particles were detected at an undeclared site.

Iran denounced the findings as a "US-Israeli plot" to put pressure on the UN's nuclear watchdog.

"Since two days before this session of the board, we are witnessing a US-Israeli plot with the support of their affiliated media," Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said in a statement to an agency's board of governors meeting, which began on Monday.

On Saturday, hours before the agency's acting chief flew to Tehran for a visit, Mr Bolton had said that Iran "may be concealing nuclear material and or activities".

Mr Netanyahu, who like Mr Trump opposes Iran's nuclear deal with major powers, said on Monday that Iran had also been developing nuclear weapons at a different site that Tehran has since destroyed.

Iran says its aims are entirely peaceful.

"John Bolton's remark wishing to set an agenda for the visit of the acting director general on the night that he was on his way to Tehran, along with the media campaign done by two news agencies, as well as the show played by the Israeli regime Prime Minister, all in all indicate that a joint project is under way," Mr Gharibabadi said.

He did not identify the news agencies to which he was referring.

"These show-off measures are aimed at increasing pressure on the agency, hitting the last straw on the JCPOA," Mr Gharibabadi said, referring to Iran's nuclear deal with major powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Washington withdrew from the nuclear agreement last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran has responded by announcing some steps to exceed thresholds set out in the deal but says it still aims to keep the pact in place.

Mr Gharibabadi said issues such as the discovery of radioactive material and why the IAEA was pushing for better co-operation were confidential.

He said Iran was "timely and proactively co-operating" with the IAEA.

Mr Gharibabadi also took a swipe at Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but will not admit to it.

"Israel talking about adhering to non-proliferation is like the mafia talking about adhering to the laws against organised crimes," he said.

Updated: September 13, 2019 12:53 AM

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