July 17, 2019
US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday “a lot of progress” had been made toward ending a volatile stand-off with Iran, adding that he wants it “out of Yemen.”
The surprising disclosures came hours after Iran’s supreme leader upped the ante in the brewing confrontation by warning Tehran would continue removing restraints on its nuclear activity and retaliate for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker.
Tensions have spiraled since Trump last year ditched big powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran under which it agreed to curtail its enrichment of uranium in return for the lifting of global sanctions crippling its economy.
Washington has since reimposed draconian sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil trade in a policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran to agree stricter limits on its nuclear capacity, curb its ballistic missile program and end support for proxy forces in the Middle East.
After Khamenei’s threats, Trump suggested to a cabinet meeting at the White House that Iran wanted to talk with its arch-enemy.
“A lot of progress has been made. We’ll see what happens. But a lot of progress has been made,” Trump said.
Trump said the Iran nuclear pact agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama was too weak to prevent Tehran developing atomic bombs.
“They can’t have a nuclear weapon. We want to help them. We’ll be good to them, we’ll work with them. We’ll help them in any way we can, but they can’t have a nuclear weapon. We’re not looking, by the way, for regime change.”
He added: “They (also) can’t be testing ballistic missiles.”
US Secretary State Mike Pompeo told the cabinet meeting at the White House that Iran had signaled it was prepared to negotiate about its ballistic missiles.
“The Iranian regime is struggling to figure out what they’re going to do with their economy because we’ve been terribly effective,” Pompeo said.
“And the result is … frankly I think it was yesterday, maybe the day before, for the first time the Iranians have said that they’re prepared to negotiate about their missile program. So we will have this opportunity, I hope, if we continue to execute our strategy appropriately, we’ll have this opportunity to negotiate a deal that will actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
There was no immediate comment from Tehran.
Fears of direct US-Iranian conflict have risen since May with several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone, and a plan for US airstrikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute.