Rouhani says U.S. must lift sanctions before tensions can be eased


Iran's president on Tuesday blamed Washington for a steadily escalating row with the United States and said the situation will not be resolved unless U.S. sanctions on the country are lifted.

Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call that Iran will "effectively counter further aggressions from the U.S. against our borders, such as the shooting down of the U.S. drone." He also said Iran has no interest in tensions in the region and particularly does not want a war, including with the United States.

Rouhani was responding to U.S. President Donald Trump statement earlier calling Iran's reaction to new sanctions "very ignorant and insulting." Tehran had mocked the sanctions as "outrageous and a sign of mental retardation."

Trump said that reaction showed that the country's leaders "do not understand reality" and again threatened to retaliate if Iran attacks any U.S. assets.

"Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force," the president said in a series of tweets. "In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration."

Asked later on Tuesday what message he wanted to send, Trump said: "There is no message. You know what, I'll tell you what the message is: When they're ready ... they'll let us know."

He added that he's ready no matter what Iran wants to do.

Rouhani said that Iran is committed to the imperilled 2015 nuclear deal, but could also show flexibility. "We will not undertake anything that we cannot reverse," he said, adding that his country would return to the deal if the remaining five partners after the U.S. withdrawal – China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – could uphold their side of the agreement.

The latest round of verbal sparring came after Trump signed an executive order on Monday imposing sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and high-ranking commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.  

Russia on Tuesday insisted that the U.S. drone was flying over Iranian territory when it was shot down last week. The chief of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said he rejected allegations that Iran is a destabilising force in the region and called for Israel and the U.S. to closely collaborate with Russia in the fight against terrorism in war-torn Syria.

"Any attempt to present Tehran as a major threat to regional security, moreover in the same category as Islamic State or another terrorist group, is unacceptable to us," Patrushev said in Jerusalem, according to TASS.  

Patrushev was in Israel to participate in a trilateral summit with Israeli and U.S. national security advisers.

At the start of the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of his country's efforts to "prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, while it actively and openly calls and works for our destruction."

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton described Iran as a "source of belligerence and aggression" in the Middle East.

Bolton said that despite a new round of sanctions against Tehran, Trump "has held the door open for real negotiations. All Iran needs to do is walk through that open door."    (dpa)

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