Zarif: We're open to talks if US lifts sanctions

Iranian Foreign Minister says his country does not want war with the US but Trump must lift sanctions to clear way for negotiations.

Elad Benari ,

Mohammad Javad Zarif
Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday his country does not want a war with the US but added that President Donald Trump must lift harsh economic sanctions on Tehran to clear the way for negotiations.

Speaking in an interview with NBC Nightly News’ Lester Holt while on a visit to New York, Zarif said the door is "wide open" to diplomacy if Trump removes the array of sanctions he has imposed since 2017 that have slashed the country’s oil exports and damaged its economy.

"Once those sanctions are lifted, then ... the room for negotiation is wide open," Zarif said, while accusing the United States of undermining diplomacy by walking away from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.

"It is the United States that left the bargaining table. And they're always welcome to return," he added.

Zarif said, as Iranian leaders often do, that Iran had no interest in securing a nuclear arsenal, though it could have built the bomb if it wanted to.

"Had we been interested in developing nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it long time ago," he asserted.

Zarif also said he did not think the US and Iran were on the verge of war, saying neither his government nor Trump was seeking armed conflict.

"I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn't mind," he claimed.

"But I don't think they'll succeed because at the end of the day, I think prudence will prevail. People know that Iran is a big, proud country. And we will not take a military attack lightly," added Zarif.

The interview comes amid tensions between the US and Iran over the nuclear deal.

Two weeks ago, Iran announced that it had exceeded the amount of enriched uranium permitted under the deal. Several days later, Iran followed up by saying it had begun to enrich uranium to 5% purity instead of the 3.67% limit imposed under the JCPOA.

On Monday, Iran warned the EU that it is prepared to end all of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear, and restore its nuclear program to the status quo ante, under which Tehran placed no limits on any areas of nuclear development.

Tensions have also been exacerbated by a series of attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf which were blamed on Iran.

In another incident, Iran shot down a US drone, claiming it violated Iranian airspace near the Strait of Hormuz.