DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Wednesday Washington should distance itself from “warmongers” after the resignation of hawkish White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Tehran stood by its demand that sanctions be lifted before any talks.
The departure of Bolton removes one of the strongest advocates of a hard line towards Iran from President Donald Trump’s White House, and raises the prospect of steps to open up negotiations after more than a year of escalating tension.
“America should understand that ... it should distance itself from warmongers,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying on Wednesday, without mentioning Bolton.
“Iran’s policy of resistance will not change as long as our enemy (the United States) continues to put pressure on Iran,” said Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two landslide elections in Iran on promises to open it up to the world.
Last year, the United States pulled out of an international accord between Iran and world powers under which Tehran accepted curbs on its nuclear programme in return for access to world trade.
Washington says the agreement reached by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was too weak because many of its terms expire in a decade and it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s missile programme and regional behaviour.
The White House has followed what the administration calls a policy of “maximum pressure”, including sanctions aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, saying its ultimate aim is to push Tehran to the table for talks on a new, tougher deal.
Immediately after Bolton’s departure, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Trump could meet with Rouhani at an upcoming U.N, meeting with “no preconditions”.
Iran has rejected talks unless sanctions are lifted first. It said on Wednesday that Bolton’s exit had not changed that position.
“The departure of ... Bolton from President Donald Trump’s administration will not push Iran to reconsider talking with the U.S.,” Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takhteravanchi, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif slammed the United States for ordering new sanctions on Iran despite Bolton’s departure.
“As the world ... was breathing a sigh of relief over ouster of #B_Team’s henchman in the White House, (Washington) declared further escalation of #EconomicTerrorism (sanctions) against Iran,” Zarif tweeted. “Thirst for war —maximum pressure— should go with the warmonger-in-chief (Bolton).”
Zarif has often said that a so-called “B-team” including Bolton could goad Trump into a conflict with Tehran.
The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on a “wide range of terrorists and their supporters”, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. [nL2N261146]
Iran says it hopes to save the deal but cannot do so indefinitely if it gets none of its economic benefits. It has responded to U.S. sanctions with steps to reduce its compliance with the accord, and has said it could eventually leave it unless other parties shield its economy from penalties.
“Iran’s commitments to the nuclear deal are proportional to other parties and we will take further steps if necessary,” Rouhani said.
Iran started using advanced centrifuges last week to ramp up output of enriched uranium and reduced its commitments to the nuclear deal, but said it was giving European countries another two months to come up with a plan to protect its economy.
France has proposed giving Iran a multi-billion dollar credit line which would shield it from some impact of U.S. sanctions, although any such deal would require the Trump administration’s tacit approval.
(This story has been refiled to correct spelling of ‘weak’ in para 6)
Additional Reporting by Tuqa Khalid; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff/William Maclean