Iran open to talks on ballistic missiles – Rouhani defends deal
ANKARA/LONDON/WASHINGTON, Oct 7, (RTRS): Iran has suggested to six world powers that it may be open to talks about its ballistic missile arsenal, seeking to reduce tension over the disputed programme, Iranian and Western offi cials familiar with the overtures told Reuters.
Tehran has repeatedly vowed to continue building up what it calls defensive missile capability in defiance of Western criticism, with Washington saying the Islamic Republic’s stance violates its 2015 nuclear deal with the powers. But the sources said that given US President Donald Trump’s threats to ditch the deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama, Tehran had approached the powers recently about possible talks on some “dimensions” of its missile programme. “During their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, Iran told members of the (world powers) that it could discuss the missile programme to remove concerns,” an Iranian source with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters on condition of anonymity. US and Western officials did not confirm the matter was discussed at the Zarif-Tillerson meeting. But two US officials said Iran had recently been “keeping it alive” by feeding certain media reports and via third parties such as Oman. A former US Defense Department official said Iran’s overtures had reached Washington in recent weeks.
“Iran has put feelers out saying it is willing to discuss its ballistic missile programme and is using contacts … officials who were ‘holdovers’ from the Obama administration,” the former official said. Iran’s reported approach came after Trump called the nuclear accord “an embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”.
He is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior administration official said on Thursday. Such a step could unravel the breakthrough agreement — seen by supporters as crucial to forestalling a Middle East arms race and tamping down regional tensions, since it limits Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in exchange for sanctions relief. The other five powers are Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, all of whom have reaffirmed commitment to the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his counterparts from the six powers, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the first time, on the fringes of the UN gathering on Sept 20. “The Americans expressed their worries about Iran’s missile capability and Zarif said in reply that the programme could be discussed,” the Iranian source told Reuters. A US official with first-hand knowledge of dealings with the Islamic Republic said Zarif had been recycling offers that “have been lying dormant on the table for some time. Trump will, meanwhile, announce new US responses to Iran’s missile tests, support for “terrorism” and cyber operations as part of his new Iran strategy, the White House said on Friday. “The president isn’t looking at one piece of this. He’s looking at all of the bad behavior of Iran,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “Not just the nuclear deal as bad behavior, but the ballistic missile testing, destabilizing of the region, Number One state sponsor of terrorism, cyber attacks, illicit nuclear program,” Sanders continued.