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Pompeo: U.S. prepared to talk to Iran with 'no preconditions'

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White House national security adviser John Bolton is warning Iran that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a “very strong response” from the United States. (May 30)
AP

BELLINZONA, Switzerland — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Trump administration is ready for unconditional discussions with Iran in an effort to ease rising tensions that have sparked fears of conflict. But the United States will not relent in trying to pressure the Islamic Republic to change its behavior in the Middle East, America’s top diplomat said.

Pompeo repeated long-standing U.S. accusations that Iran is bent on destabilizing the region, but he also held out the possibility of talks as President Donald Trump has suggested. While the offer may not pan out, Pompeo made it during a visit to Switzerland, the country that long has represented American interests in Iran, as part of a European trip aimed at assuring wary leaders that the U.S. is not eager for war.

“We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with his Swiss counterpart. “We’re ready to sit down with them, but the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”

Iran’s foreign minister dismissed Trump’s invitation for Iranian officials to contact him about possible talks.

“It’s not very likely because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure. He is imposing pressure. This may work in a real estate market. It does not work in dealing with Iran,” Javad Zarif told ABC’s “This Week.”

Pompeo’s meeting with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona came amid concerns about the potential for escalation and miscalculation with Iran — a situation that has many in Europe and the Middle East on edge.

Cassis, whose country has been an intermediary between the two before, made no secret of that nervousness.

“The situation is very tense. We are fully aware, both parties are fully aware, of this tension. Switzerland, of course, wishes there is no escalation, no escalation to violence,” he said. “Both parties are now increasing the pressure, and for the rest this is a matter of worry, but we cannot do anything unless we get a mandate from both parties.”

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President Donald Trump says Iran wants to make a deal. Trump, in a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, sais Iran’s economy has taken a major downturn since he pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. (May 27)
AP, AP

Cassis said Switzerland would be pleased to serve as an intermediary, but not a “mediator,” between the United States and Iran. To do so, however, would require requests from both sides, he said.

Neither he nor Pompeo would say if such requests had been made of the Swiss.

Pompeo thanked Switzerland, which serves as the “protecting power” for the United States in Iran, for looking after Americans detained there. Trump administration officials have suggested they would look positively at any move to release at least five American citizens and at least two permanent U.S. residents currently imprisoned in Iran.

Pompeo declined to comment on whether he had made a specific request to the Swiss about the detainees. But, he said the release of unjustly jailed Americans in Iran and elsewhere is a U.S. priority.

Pompeo was in Switzerland on the second leg after Germany of a four-nation tour of Europe in which he is both trying to calm nerves and stressing that the U.S. will defend itself and not relent in raising pressure on Iran with economic sanctions.

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Despite the firm stance, Trump has signaled a willingness to talk with Iran’s leadership. Iranian officials have hinted at the possibility but also insisted they will not be bulled.

“If they want to talk, I’m available,” Trump said last week, even as Pompeo and the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, were stepping up warnings that any attack on American interests by Iran or its proxies would draw a rapid and significant U.S. response.

The U.S. is sending hundreds of additional troops to the region after blaming Iran and Iranian proxies for recent sabotage to tankers in the Persian Gulf and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.

Some analysts believe Iran is acting to restore leverage it has lost since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and the U.S. reimposed sanctions that have hobbled Iran’s economy.

More: State Department orders some staff to leave Iraq amid escalating tensions with Iran

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The young Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, his wife, 20-year-old Fawzieh Pahlavi, sister of King Farouk of Egypt, and their 1-year-old daughter, Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi, in the Royal Palace at Tehran, Iran, on Dec. 10, 1941. AP

  • The young Shah of Iran, Mohammad Riza Pahlavi, his wife, 20-year-old Fawzieh Pahlavi, sister of king Farouk of Egypt, and their little one-year-old daughter, Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi, in the Royal Palace at Teheran, Iran, on Dec. 10, 1941.1 of 33
  • Pedestrians and cars travel through the main intersection of Tehran, Iran on April 20,1946.2 of 33
  • A man carries a basket on his head near the Southern Bazaar in Tehran, Iran on April 20, 1946.  3 of 33
  • Persian demonstrators who crowded onto the balconies of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's information center in Tehran hoist Iranian flags on June 22, 1951.  4 of 33
  • When opposition deputies in the Persian Majlis, Lower House, prevented Premier Mohammed Mosaddeq from speaking, he delivered his speech in the Majlis Square, Tehran, Sept. 27, 1951. Crowds that were waiting for Mosaddeq spontaneously hoisted him onto their shoulders following the speech.5 of 33
  • Iran new Premier is Mohammed Mossadegh, on May 3, 1951.6 of 33
  • A view of a section of the vast crowd gathered in Parliament Square in Tehran on May 22, 1951. Banner in foreground reads, Oil nationalization is blow to the British. 7 of 33
  • A miniature oil derrick with an Iranian flag at its top heads a parade during a rally in Tehran on June 3, 1951. 8 of 33
  • Former Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh is sentenced to three years solitary confinement by a military court in Tehran, Iran, on Dec. 21, 1953. The court found him guilty on 13 charges of acting against the Shah. 9 of 33
  • Damage from rioting is evident at the U.S. Point Four office in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 1953. The rioting returned young Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to power and ousted Premier Mohammed Mossadegh, whose residence adjoins the Point Four building.10 of 33
  • Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi of Iran, right, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower drive through cheering crowds in Tehran on Dec. 14, 1959, on their way to the Shah's marble palace.11 of 33
  • A street scene from Tehran on June 16, 1970.12 of 33
  • Rioters set fires on Tehran's main streets during anti-government demonstrations on Nov. 5, 1978.13 of 33
  • View of a massive demonstration against the Shah of Iran in downtown Tehran, Iran on Oct. 9, 1978. 14 of 33
  • Smoke pours from a building set afire by religious rioters, and commercial vehicles sit in a sea of wreckage following anti-government riots in Qum, Iran on May 10, 1978.15 of 33
  • Iranian demonstration against the Shah in downtown Tehran on Oct. 9, 1978. 16 of 33
  • The deposed Shah of Iran is shown with  his children and wife vacationing in the Bahamas, Mar. 30, 1979. From left to right: Leila Pahlavi, Ali Reza Pahlavi, the Shah, his wife Farah Diba, and Farahnaz Pahlavi.17 of 33
  • One of 60 U.S. hostages, blindfolded and with his hands bound, is being displayed to the crowd outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian hostage takers, Nov. 9, 1979.  18 of 33
  • Crowds take to the streets during and anti-U.S. demonstration in Tehran, Iran in Nov. 1979.19 of 33
  • Islamic Fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, center, waves to followers as he appears on the balcony of his headquarters in Tehran, Iran, on Friday, Feb. 2, 1979, the second day of his return from exile.  Thousands jammed surrounding streets to get a view of the Ayatollah.  20 of 33
  • An undamaged helicopter sits on the ground behind the charred remains of a second U.S. helicopter in the Iranian desert of Dasht-E-Kavir on April 26, 1980. The site, about 300 air miles from Teheran, was where the United States rescue effort for those held hostage in Teheran was abandoned, and where a U.S. helicopter and transport collided.21 of 33
  • President Jimmy Carter prepares to make a national television address from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on the failed mission to rescue the Iran hostages on April 25, 1980. 22 of 33
  • David Roeder shouts and waves as he arrives at Rhein-Main U.S. Air Force base in Frankfurt, West Germany from Algeria on Jan. 21, 1981.  Roeder was among 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days after their capture at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. (23 of 33
  • Iranian troops observe Iraqi forward positions in the desert during their offensive into Iraq territory, on July 15, 1982.24 of 33
  • Lt. Col. Oliver North delivers a pro-Contra briefing to the members of the Iran-Contra committee Tuesday, July 14, 1987. North is holding each of the 57 slides and describing what they showed. 25 of 33
  • An Iranian mourner goes into a frenzy just after the body of the Ayatollah Khomeini was removed from Beheshte Zahra Cemetery on June 6, 1989, Tehran, Iran. The burial was delayed when thousands of mourners crowded the Imams body in an effort to touch their leader.26 of 33
  • President George W. Bush labels North Korea, Iran and Iraq an axis of evil during his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill on Jan. 29, 2002.27 of 33
  • Ukrainie worker Anatoli Trafinka stands in front of Boushehr nuclear power plant in Boushehr, Iran, on March 11, 2003.  Iran's first nuclear power plant, which the United States claims can be used to make nuclear bombs, is nearing completion and all major components are installed, Iranian officials said Tuesday.28 of 33
  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad, answers a question during a news conference in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 14, 2006. The news conference by Ahmadinejad comes after efforts by European countries on Friday to build international support for bringing Iran before the UN Security Council, over its nuclear program. Iran meanwhile, has vowed to end all voluntary co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if it is referred to the UN Security Council for restarting its nuclear program.29 of 33
  • Iranian women walk past a vendor at the sideline of Tehran Iran, on Oct. 25, 2007. Despite the government's insistence that U.S. and U.N. sanctions aren't causing any pain, some leading Iranian figures have begun to say publicly that the Western pressure does hurt. And on Tehran's streets, average people are increasingly worried over the economic pinch. 30 of 33
  • Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near the central city of Arak on Jan. 15, 2011. Iran has steadfastly balked at demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program. Iran claims it only seeks energy and medical research from its reactors, but wants full control over the nuclear process from uranium ore to atomic fuel.31 of 33
  • President Barack Obama speaks the Rose Garden of the White House on April 2, 2015 about the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear talks. The president heralded a framework nuclear understanding with Iran as an historic agreement that could pave the way for a final deal that would leave the U.S., its allies and the world safer.  32 of 33
  • President Donald Trump shows a signed Presidential Memorandum after delivering a statement on the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on May 8, 2018, in Washington. 33 of 33

Last month, the administration ended sanctions waivers that had allowed certain countries to continue to import Iranian oil, the country’s main source of revenue, without U.S. penalties. The U.S. also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “foreign terrorist organization,” adding new layers of sanctions to foreigners that might do business with it or its affiliates.

Despite the U.S. withdrawal, Iran has remained a party to the nuclear deal that involves the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the European Union. Iran has continued to broadly comply with the terms, which called for it to curb its nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief. On Friday, however, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog reported that Iran may be in violation of limits on the number of advanced centrifuges it can use.

Pompeo declined to comment on the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency other than to say the U.S. is “watching closely” what is going on in Iran.

“The world should be mindful of how we are watching closely how Iran is complying with the requirements that were set out,” he said.

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