Zarif: Iran to further roll back nuclear obligations if demands not met
President Hassan Rouhani Tuesday told the United States to "take the first step" by lifting all sanctions against Iran, a day after US President Donald Trump said at the G7 summit in the French city of Biarritz that he was open to meeting.
"The step is to retreat from sanctions. You must retreat from all illegal, unjust and wrong sanctions against the nation of Iran," Rouhani said in a speech aired live on national television.
He said "the key for positive change is in the hands of Washington," because Iran had already ruled out ever doing what worries the US – building an atomic bomb.
"If honestly this is your only concern, this concern has already been removed" through a religious decree issued by Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, he said.
Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons in 2003 and reiterated it several times since.
"We don't (intend to) make an atomic bomb... our military doctrine is based on conventional arms," said the Iranian president.
Iran has ruled out talks with Washington over its military capabilities, particularly its ballistic missile program that it says is defensive. It denies the missiles are capable of being tipped with nuclear warheads and says its nuclear program is peaceful.
"So take the first step. Without this step, this lock will not be unlocked," Rouhani said at a Tehran event marking the start of construction at a housing project.
The US unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal in May last year and subsequently reimposed tough sanctions on Iran's economy.
Earlier on Monday, Rouhani expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis.
“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,” he had said. “Even if the odds of success are not 90% but are 20% or 10%, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”
Rouhani also shielded Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif against criticism from hardliners over his surprise visit Sunday to France’s Biarritz, where leaders of the G7 rich democracies were meeting.
In Biarritz, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday the "conditions for a meeting" between Trump and Rouhani "in the next few weeks" had been created through intensive diplomacy and consultations.
Trump, speaking at the final news conference of the G7 summit, said he "would certainly agree to that."
He added that the timeline proposed by Macron was realistic.
Trump ruled out lifting economic sanctions to compensate for losses suffered by Iran.
He was equally confident that Rouhani would be in favor.
"I think he's going to want to meet. I think Iran wants to get this situation straightened out," he added.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday Iran has an opportunity to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and resume dialogue about its nuclear activities.
“There is clearly an opportunity now for Iran to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal... and to resume dialogue.”
But Zarif said the prospects for such a meeting were "unimaginable" without Washington rejoining the nuclear deal with Tehran, two days after he made a surprise trip to Biarritz for talks on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
He said on Tuesday that he had made it known during the G7 summit that a meeting between Rouhani and Trump would be highly improbable even if the United States returned to the nuclear deal.
"On my trip to Biarritz I said that a meeting between Iran's president and Trump is not imaginable" until America rejoins the nuclear pact, said Zarif.
"Even at that time, we will not have bilateral negotiations," added Zarif, who is now on a tour of Asia, in remarks aired on national television.
Third nuclear step
Rouhani has indicated he is open to holding talks with the Americans, but it is an approach that has faced criticism from ultraconservatives in Iran.
In his speech on Tuesday, the Iranian president said his government's policy of "constructive interaction" with the world was in line with the Leader's approach of "extensive interaction."
But he stressed the United States had to "retreat from their mistakes" and return to commitments made under the nuclear deal.
"Our path is clear if they come back to their commitments, we too will fully act on our commitments. If they do not come back to their commitments, we will continue our path," said Rouhani.
Iran, which has slowly been moving away from the nuclear deal in retaliation for US sanctions, has threatened to go further in early September unless it receives sanctions relief.
"We will continue to scale back our commitments under the 2015 deal if our interests are not guaranteed," said Rouhani.
Zarif also noted that Iran will take the "third step" in reducing its nuclear commitments unless the other signatories take action to protect the agreement.
The third step will be taken on September 6, Zarif said in an interview with the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Zarif further said if Iran comes to an agreement with Europe and the European side begins to implement it, we will not take this third step, without elaborating.
Tehran has rowed back on its nuclear commitments twice in compliance with articles 26 and 36 of the 2015 deal.
No photo opportunity
The Iranian president said he was not just looking for photo opportunities.
"We seek to resolve issues and problems in a rational way but we are not after photos. For anyone wanting to take a picture with Hassan Rouhani, this is not possible," he said.
Trump has put in place a policy of "maximum pressure" on Iran through sanctions that critics see as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East between the US and Iran.
European parties to the nuclear deal have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States.
Macron has led efforts to defuse tensions and invited Zarif to fly in to the Biarritz G7 meeting unexpectedly on Sunday for side talks with French officials.
"Iran does not seek tension with the world. We want security in the Middle East. We want better and friendly ties with other countries," said Rouhani.
Both Rouhani and Trump are scheduled to be in New York for the UN General Assembly at the end of September, which could provide a stage for talks.
AFP, Reuters, AP and Press TV contributed to this story.