Rouhani Says US Open to Sanctions Removal

Week of September 23rd, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

UN General Assembly Ends Without US-Iran Meeting

The JCPOA’s Joint Commission met at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The meeting including the foreign ministers of Iran and the remaining parties to the nuclear deal and EU Foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini.

Mogherini said the meeting was focused on “preserving the nuclear deal and overcoming the current problems.” She called on Iran to return to full compliance with the deal and said Iran’s breaches so far were “reversible.”

During the UN General Assembly (UNGA), President Rouhani met simultaneously with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. All three European leaders also met with Trump as part of efforts to mediate between the U.S. and Iran and facilitate a Trump-Rouhani meeting.

On September 24th, after meeting Rouhani, Macron called for broader negotiations with Iran, stating: “We need to return to the negotiation table for frank and tough talks on Iran’s nuclear activities, regional actions, and ballistic missile program and at the same time have a more open approach on the nature of sanctions … I am hopeful that in the next hours we will make some progress.”

Macron added: “I believe the conditions have been created for a quick return to negotiations. There is mutual interest in progress and creating the conditions for reducing tensions and reaching a long-term agreement. But this depends on the will of both sides.”

Rouhani said the same day that if sanctions were removed, he would be ready to discuss “small changes” in the JCPOA. Rouhani clarified this would be in the direction of a proposal announced by Foreign Minister Zarif, involving Iran ratifying the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreements—allowing for permanent intrusive nuclear inspections—in exchange for the U.S. Congress ratifying the JCPOA and the removal of U.S. sanctions.

During his UNGA speech, Rouhani declared that Iran’s answer to negotiations while under sanctions was no. Rouhani stressed that Iran will “never negotiate with an enemy that wants to force it to surrender with weapons of poverty, pressure and sanctions.”

Rouhani called on the U.S. to “halt sanctions so that the path to dialogue can be opened.” Rouhani said that the U.S. could abide by the deal’s framework without formally returning to it, stating: “If you are sensitive to the name of the JCPOA, well, then you can return to its framework and abide by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231.”

Rouhani also warned that Iran’s “patience” had its limits, stating: “Iran’s patience has limits. When America doesn’t respect a UN Security Council resolution, when Europe puts on display its incapability, the only path is to rely on our own national honor, pride, and power.”

Rouhani also said the Middle East was on the “edge of a cliff” and “one mistake can create a massive fire.” Rouhani announced an effort to create a coalition to provide for “security, peace, stability, and development in the Persian Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz.” He dubbed it the “Hormuz Peace Endeavor,” or HOPE.

At a press conference shortly before he left New York, Rouhani called on the U.S. to rebuild trust. He stated: “What is important now is that America rebuilds the trust it has damaged.”

Rouhani said that U.S. sanctions had made America more unpopular in Iran. He said that the “aim” of U.S. sanctions was “imposing pressure on the Iranian people and separating the Iranian people from the [Iranian] government, but the only result has been increasing the distance between the Iranian people and the U.S. government.”

Rouhani also discussed the issue of U.S. citizens held in Iran and said the “ball was in America’s court.” Rouhani said that “twice” Iran has had “discussions” with the Trump administration about the prisoners, but that “America didn’t abide by its commitments.”

Rouhani said Iran’s recent release of the Lebanese national Nizar Zakka was a “greenlight’ to the U.S. government. He added: “The ball is in America’s court.”

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Rouhani Says U.S. Open to Sanctions Removal

At a press conference in Tehran after returning from New York, President Rouhani said the U.S. had messaged its willingness to remove all sanctions. Rouhani stated: “The Americans messaged practically all European and non-European leaders that we are ready for negotiations [with Iran]. The American request previously was for bilateral negotiations, meaning the two presidents negotiate together, and we rejected this multiple times.”

Rouhani cited European leaders as telling him that after Iran sought multilateral talks within the P5+1 framework, the U.S. said it was willing to remove “all sanctions.” Rouhani stated: “The German chancellor, British prime minister, and French president were all at New York and all insisted that this meeting take place and that America says it will remove sanctions.”

Rouhani said one of the issues was which sanctions would be removed in which order. He said, continuing his citation of European officials, that U.S. officials “explicitly said that we will remove all sanctions.”

However, Rouhani said, the “way this would be done was not acceptable.” He then rejected again negotiations “under the conditions” of sanctions and maximum pressure.

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Protesting Workers Attacked & Detained

Detained workers of the HEPCO company in the city of Arak have been released. 29 workers had staged a protest on September 25th over unpaid wages and were forcibly dispersed and arrested. Six of the workers have been released after paying bail. Many were injured after being attacked by security forces. 

The workers had announced that starting on September 15th, they would stage 10 days of protests. According to BBC Persian, they blocked the “north-south railway” in Iran during their protest. After the protest, the Ministry of Labor announced that within one week, the workers’ “pensions” would be paid. 

HEPCO was privatized in 2007 and its workers are the most recent disaffected employees of recently-privatized firms to protest.  Last year, workers at the Haft Tapeh company and the Ahvaz Steel company also protested unpaid wages and poor conditions after the companies underwent botched privatizations.

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Rouhani Confirms Saudi Diplomatic Overture

Hassan Rouhani confirmed at a New York press conference that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is attempting to mediate Iran-Saudi tensions. Before arriving in New York for the UN General Assembly, Khan met with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) in Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani affirmed that Khan carried a message from MBS for him. Rouhani said his conversation with Khan dealt with the war in Yemen and armed groups that have launched terrorist attacks inside Iran. 

Rouhani was answering a Lebanese reporter’s question, who asked: “Recently Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, delivered a message to you from Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Donald Trump. Is Saudi Arabia prepared to negotiate to end its support for separatists and terrorists in Iran? Is it possible that Iran and Saudi Arabia will negotiate about Yemen?”

Rouhani said in response, “All your remarks are correct.” Rouhani added about potential Iran-Saudi negotiations over Yemen: “The major problem of Iran with Saudi Arabia has been the issue of the Yemen war. If a ceasefire pervades, the problems between the two countries will diminish quicker.”

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Khamenei Blasts Europe

Ayatollah Khamenei said that the words of European governments were “empty.” He stated: “The objectives behind the enmity of the Europeans with the Islamic Republic is not fundamentally different from America’s enmity. Europeans on the surface appear as mediators and say a lot of words but they are all empty.”

Khamenei said Iranian diplomats can continue to engage Europe. However, he said that because European countries had “failed” to take “practical actions” to negate U.S. sanctions, “there should absolutely be no hope or trust in them.”

Khamenei’s remarks come after a joint statement by three European countries blaming Iran for the strikes on Saudi oil facilities and calling for broader negotiations. The statement by the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany called for a new deal with Iran that dealt with its nuclear, regional, and missile activities.

Defense Minister Amir Hatami forcefully dismissed the potential for negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program. He stated that “increasing Iran’s missile capabilities” was supported by national consensus.

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Officials Deny Saudi Attack, Say Houthi Capabilities Increasing

President Rouhani denied Iranian involvement in the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil refineries and said Yemen had a right to defend itself. Rouhani discussed the “killing of the innocent people  of Yemen and the bombing of hospitals and schools,” and stated: “The enemies of the region do not want a nation to respond to the fires they have lit and this is as the Yemen nation is great, alert, and awake.”

Rouhani condemned U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and said they exposed a double standard. He stated: “When the American president confesses that Saudi Arabia last year spent $400 billion in the United States, no one can say anything. But when the Yemeni people, in response to all this aggression, respond once and hit a place, it creates this much anger.”

Rouhani said Iran seeks good relations with all its Persian Gulf neighbors: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, just as it has friendly relations with all its neighbors to its north, east, and west, seeks friendly relations with its southern neighbors.”

Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, has said that Houthi forces in Yemen have the weapons to shoot down “strategic enemy aircraft.” He stated: “Today the Yemenis have reached a place that they have weapons that shoot down strategic enemy aircraft. This has made the enemy conclude that it has no choice but to run away from the Yemen quagmire.”

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Khamenei Says Iran Must Disprove Efficacy of “Maximum Pressure”

Ayatollah Khamenei stated that the U.S. aim with negotiations was to impose its demands and prove the efficacy of its “maximum pressure” policy. Khamenei said that the Iranian people “didn’t give a damn” about “maximum pressure” and that the Islamic Republic’s officials were united in not conducting negotiations at any level with the United States.

Khamenei said that Iran shouldn’t place its hopes in foreign states, but stressed he supported dialogue with the world. He stated: “This doesn’t mean that we don’t have relationships with the governments of the world. We support relations, dialogue, and having meetings but we shouldn’t make the affairs of the country dependent on meetings with others.”

He added: “Use the opportunities of the world as much as possible, but the cures are inside the country and solving problems is in the hands of the people.” 

Khamenei said that the U.S. was trying to deceive Iran with its call for negotiations. He stated: “Sometimes they say negotiations without preconditions and other times they say negotiations with 12 conditions. Such statements reflect either their incoherent policies or are a trick to confuse the other side. However, the Islamic Republic will not become confused because our path is clear and we know what we’re doing.”

Khamenei said the U.S. aim with negotiations was not to find “just solutions,” but to impose its “insulting demands.” Khamenei said that U.S. regional allies could be talked to in such a way, but not the Islamic Republic. He stated: “For these types of negotiations, they should go after those same people who act like their cows to be milked.”

He added: “The Islamic Republic is a republic of the faithful, a republic of the Muslims of God, a republic of honor.”

Khamenei said the goal of “maximum pressure” was to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees and to force it to be subservient. He said the Trump administration’s goal was to prove that maximum pressure was a success and that Iranian officials were forced to come to a negotiation table despite saying they would not.

He said the Trump administration wanted to entrench “maximum pressure” as the Western policy towards Iran, stating: “The U.S. regime is to make maximum pressure the definitive policy and only approach with Iran and entrench this among its domestic rivals and for the Europeans.”

Khamenei explained why he believes Iran cannot validate the maximum pressure policy: “If the enemy is able to prove that maximum pressure is effective on Iran, Iran and the Iranian people will never know comfort. Because behind all of America’s arrogant policies will be this policy [of maximum pressure]. From then on, whatever they demand of the Islamic Republic in a bullying way … if we say no they will again start maximum pressure.”

Khamenei then said that Iran must disprove the efficacy of “maximum pressure.” He stated: “We have to prove that the maximum pressure policy against the Iranian people has no value.”

Khamenei summarized his remarks on negotiations with the U.S. in two points. The first is that “negotiations with America mean the imposition of their demands on the Islamic Republic.” The second that “negotiations mean the success of America’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy.”

He added: “It is for these reasons that the country’s officials from the president to the foreign minister and others have with one voice announced that we won’t negotiations with America not on a bilateral or multilateral basis.”

Khamenei then laid out the conditions for U.S.-Iran negotiations, saying it required a U.S. return to the JCPOA. He declared: “When America takes back its words and repents and returns to the nuclear agreement it violated, then with the group of countries that are part of the agreement and talk with Iran, America can also participate. But without this, no negotiations at any level will occur between U.S. and Iranian officials whether in New York or anywhere else.” 

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About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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