ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – The United States is ready to engage in talks “on the basis of mutual respect” with Iran about its disputed nuclear program as long as Tehran is willing to demonstrate that its program is for civilian purposes, a White House spokesman said yesterday.
“We have had a number of engagements with the Iranians and we’ll continue to have conversations on the basis of mutual respect,” Josh Earnest, the deputy White House spokesman, told reporters aboard Air Force One.
“And over the course of those conversations there will be an opportunity for the Iranians to demonstrate through actions the seriousness with which they are pursuing this endeavor,” Earnest said.
US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be in New York next week for a meeting of the UN General Assembly. The White House has said that an encounter between the two leaders is possible.
Earnest said there was no meeting scheduled between Obama and Rouhani next week.
His comments were the latest signal from the White House that it views Rouhani as potentially someone with whom it can do business. Western powers believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and aimed at power generation.
The New York Times reported yesterday that Iran sought a “swift agreement” over its nuclear programme with the goal of ending sanctions that have devastated its economy.
Earnest, responding to that story, said the White House welcomed the new tone from Tehran after Rouhani’s election in June and said sanctions had had their desired effect.
“These sanctions have tightened around the Iranian regime, further isolated them from the international community, taken a significant toll on their economy and put pressure on them to come back to the bargaining table,” he said.
“The president has demonstrated a willingness to engage with the Iranians, and has done that for some time now,” he added, noting that Obama and Rouhani had exchanged letters.
The positive tone in US-Iranian relations, which have been fraught since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, worries Israel. It is warning the Obama administration not to be seduced by Rouhani’s charm offensive.
A senior Israeli minister said yesterday that Iran is on course to develop a nuclear bomb within six months and time has run out for further negotiations.