In a press conference at the end of his visit to New York, President Hassan Rouhani reiterated that Iran is open to talks with the United States — if it lifts sanctions. “Cease this policy of maximum pressure and pursue a policy of dialogue and logic and reason, and to seek that which benefits the world and America,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The president also suggested that Tehran would be open to a new deal that would cover issues beyond its controversial nuclear program. He stipulated that the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, must be fully implemented so it could be a foundation for something broader. In wide-ranging comments, Rouhani also discussed the Saudi oil attacks, foreign detainees in Iran and other issues. The following are excerpted remarks arranged by topic.
Press Conference 9/26/19
On U.S. diplomacy and the nuclear deal: "Our best hope is for the United States government to pursue right policies, whomever that person may be heading the executive branch or from whichever party, whether it be Mr. Trump or another individual. If the right policies are chosen that benefit the people of America, the people of our region, the people of the world, then of course that benefits everyone equally. If America wishes today to talk and, after two years, reach a conclusion, an agreement and then sign that agreement, and after a few months change its mind and say, "Well that wasn't such a good agreement. I'm seeking something else now." In Persian, we say, "Some just make frivolous excuses. Any day that they are faced with problems, they make other parties responsible for those problems."
"What we announce are our policies. Now, if we want to put percentages on the possibility of that [sanctions being lifted] occurring, at any time a country can feel that her previous policies were wrong and return to the correct path. So, what we say is for America to take the preconditions off the table. The precondition of America is, if it wishes to talk to Iran, the condition is that the sanctions and maximum pressure upon the Iranian people must be implemented and then enter into talks, we say this is the wrong precondition. This must be taken off the table. The sanctions must be dissolved. Cease this policy of maximum pressure and pursue a policy of dialogue and logic and reason, and to seek that which benefits the world and America. If we reach a time when these preconditions are taken off the table, of course the possibility exists to talk with America."
On a broader deal: "What we believe in is that the JCPOA is not a maximum form of agreement. It is what was impossible at its time. What was attainable at its time and agreed upon by all involved parties. And it must be implemented. Now, if we wish to take a step above and beyond the JCPOA, that is possible. But the proper foundation would lie upon the full and exact implementation of the JCPOA first, which means we must all be united in the equal implementation of it. But at the same time, we can talk and conduct talks about actions above and beyond. And we made it very specific in which fields or on which subject matters we were willing to talk. Vis-a-vis the missiles, it is to everyone's benefit for them to not ask us because they would end up owing us much much more than fathomable because the Americans and the Europeans have been sending and are sending so many weapons, and missiles, and missile systems to the region. If they wish to even start talking about missile activity, the first thing they should do logically is stop the distribution and sale of those weapons to the region.
"Perhaps, in the same way that they are selling weapons to our neighbors, they should make them available for sale to us as well. Those limitations within the JCPOA according to the U.N. agreement is coming to an end in a short period of time. So, again I do think they should not touch upon this topic because, as I said, they would end up owing us much due to their activities and their positions. But about other issues, I think we can talk to one and other. The limits and limitations of those talks we have spoken about the details of those talks with Europeans, and those talks have been transferred to the American side as well."
On the Saudi oil attacks and Yemen: "We have nothing to do with it. There is a bloody war in the region, a futile and wrong war that consists of the aggression against Yemen. And the people of Yemen have a legitimate right to self-defense. And all of the world knows that the Yemeni forces, and the Yemeni armed forces, do possess longer-range missiles as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. And they have previously attacked different regions of Saudi Arabia. Those who accuse others, those are the parties who should be held responsible to show proof, to show evidence, to back up those allegations or accusations. If this attack didn't come from the south, it came from the north, the west or the east. Those who make the allegations must provide the needed proof to back up such allegations."
"In regards to my interactions with some of the European countries that had made such wrong expressions, I asked them, "What is your proof? What is your evidence?" They responded by saying, "Well we don't have such documentation or evidence, but we thought that the abilities of the Yemeni armed forces was less than what is required to carry out such an attack. And I told them in response that "your lack of updated information on the ground about the Yemeni capabilities leads you to such conclusions, but if you do have any evidence or documentation, please do make that available to me, because I am quite keen on seeing that."
“So, I'm saying something different here. Instead of hurling accusations and allegations, let's all join hands and put an end to the fire of war that is ravaging the region. I suggest to America, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, those who are constantly supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates aimed at killing the people of Yemen, they should stop the export and supply of such weapons. They should pressure Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for peace. The people of Yemen, and the forces of Yemen a few days ago announced that they stand ready for a complete cease fire and have ceased all of its activities on condition that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would also cease theirs. But unfortunately, after this announcement from the Yemenis, we have witnessed an ongoing attack of aircraft from those two countries.”
On detainees and hostages: “You are very well aware that on different occasions in the paste, we held talks with American officials aimed at the freeing of prisoners held in both countries. At times we did succeed, meaning that the Americans or the dual citizens were freed and, in return, the Iranians held here were freed as well. And with Mr. Trump's administration, we started this type of discussion a couple of different times to speak about the prisoners and once the Americans announced that at least one of those held in Iran would be freed we would take that as a gesture of good will and we would reciprocate. This happened on the Iranian side. A dual citizen that had Lebanese and American citizenship was freed. Instead of the Americans taking reciprocal steps and free an Iranian or more, they only thanked Iran. They only made an expression. So we have always been ready to do this. We will always be ready, but the ball today stands in America's court.”
On regional tensions: "And during this gathering at the General Assembly, we gave the Hormuz Peace Endeavor, the peace plan offered, and what we mean by that is in the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, the only way that exists is constructive dialogue between countries of the region, understanding between those countries and cooperation toward security and an end to the war in Yemen, which can guarantee the security of the region."
U.S. ban on senior Iranian officials and their families: "Well, we have been faced with this very problem from before. The Iranians who sought to enter the United States faced problems, and even recently during a scientific competition, an academic scientific competition centering on aerospace, a team of our students from Shahid Technical University were supposed to participate, were set to participate in this competition in the United States. They were not granted visas to enter the country and participate, and they were forced to participate via video conferencing. And in fact, they won the competition."
"But for us, a government that reaches this point, to pick a fight against science, to pick a fight against healthcare, to pick a fight against those who are ill and are seeking treatment, and those who wish to see their loved ones, to me, this really shows the wrong policy of this government. So Iranians, there is no love affair for them to want to come to the United States. If we come here, it doesn't mean that we aim to come here with on purpose. And of course, I'm not saying that we have a problem with the nation, with the people of America. The reason why we come her is because the United Nations is here, and America does not have the right to impede the coming and goings of officials from the United Nations, because the United Nations serves as the home of all governments and all nations throughout the world. This is the house of peace, the house of communications with one another, and America must not take advantage of its position as a host and only grant visas to who America likes."
"Yes, if someone wishes to travel to America, that's their prerogative to grant visa or not, but to come to the United Nations, particularly Muslim countries, particularly third-world countries, even neighboring countries, such as Mexico, even they are facing problems as far as being able to enter the United States. I think this path that America has chosen does not benefit anyone."
President Macron’s efforts to mediate between Iran and the United States: “Of course, the president of France has been seeking for months to find a solution for this problem. We were carrying forward two solutions, the European solution and the American solution. The European solution, in that framework, we reached certain agreements, and it was in the implementation stage when they said, "Well, in some form, to implement and make actionable the European solution, we need the American approval." So this is their problem. It has little or nothing to do with us. Of course, always Mr. Macron has been pursuing this line as well that the better solution would be to resolve the problem between Iran and America. And we have said it, and I said it during this press conference as well that America must do away and take off the table the preconditions. And if they do so, of course the ground would be laid for certain new conditions which can be considered. Of course, during the meetings that we've had in the past few days in New York City, we have talked about different positions, held different discussions. And I don't want to say that such plans will never be realized, but thus far during this visit, we have not reached a point of confirmation.”
Iran’s rollback of nuclear deal commitments: "We have announced that the third step in decrease of JCPOA commitments by us was that. The limitations that we had vis-a-vis research and development within the framework of the JCPOA, we have left those limitations. We have taken those limitations off the table. We announced it formally. We announced it to the IAEA as well. But I want to share a very important point with you. The supervision and the inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency have not been limited or decreased. The IAEA, in the same fashion since the beginning of the JCPOA in 2005, was supervising and inspecting and carrying forward its activities in Iran. Today, it is carrying forward those activities in the same manner. Some of the commitments in the JCPOA have been decreased and one of them was in the field of research and development. Now there is no talk of increasing the enrichment level. That's not the scope of what we’re doing. Our scope is research and development. And advance centrifuges, we were supposed to start the chain of those advanced centrifuges. That scheduled has been moved up. So we have gotten around to that sooner. Once this chain is completely, of course, it will be made active. The only purview of this is research and development with no other ends or objectives. You are quite right, but the important point is that we announced it ahead of time transparently."
"What we have announced, even previously, our commitments within the JCPOA are bilateral, multilateral. Some of those commitment we have to fulfill. Other commitments our counterparts have to fulfill. What we have witnessed in the last few months have become a unilateral set of commitments that had to be implemented. In other words, we were living up to our commitments fully, and they kept decreasing their commitments. We wanted to create a balance. Just as they were decreasing their commitments, we wished to decrease ours as well. And this is a formula that had been envisaged in paragraphs 26 and 36 of the JCPOA. If one side does not live up to and fulfill part of their commitments, the other side can, to the same degree, decrease its commitments. So, what we do is a decrease of commitments within the JCPOA. Therefore, we announced that the decrease of our commitments is in such a fashion that is reversible."
"In other words, this very hour that we are talking to each other here, if the 4+1 announced that we will fulfill all of our commitments, immediately we will also return to all of our commitments within the JCPOA. The temporary actions that we are taking will be reversed to the previous status. So were not seeking nuclear weapons. Our nuclear activities are completely under the purview and inspections of the IAEA. We are not after maximum pressure, or medium pressure, or low pressure. We seek the proper execution of the JCPOA. So if we do not lessen our commitments, as envisaged in articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA then that means we are not fully implementing the JCPOA. We are using the tools brought into the JCPOA to live up to our commitments. Therefore, we hope that everyone returns to full implementation."
European efforts to salvage the nuclear deal: "Following the unilateral exit of the United States of America from the JCPOA, the remaining parties, which are the 4+1, held meetings at the different levels and promised us that they would be able to make up for the exit of the United States from the deal and for the JCPOA to continue. We were not happy to see the JCPOA damaged and wanted to do everything we could within our power for the JCPOA to remain steadfast. So we listened to them, to their plans and proposals. The Europeans set forth many plans. Initially, they told us we will go through central banks in order to conduct transactions and business with you. After a few months, they said, "We have run into problems with our central banks, so we will go through another financial system -- a special purpose vehicle or SPV if you will. So through that we will conduct financial affairs with you." After a few months, they came back and said, "This system has run into challenges as well. And now we'll go through another system called INSTEX." This, thus far, this last one even in practice hasn't been able to stand on its feet."
"So, unfortunately, when it comes to actions, Europe has demonstrated its inability or lack of willingness or perhaps it wishes to not pay anything for the agreement that it is apart of because maybe it emanates from a mentality that says, "I wish to stay in this multi-lateral agreement, but I wish to put all of the costs and the burdens on the shoulder of Iran." So, we kept trying, we are still talking to them. Our distinguished foreign minister, during the last few days that he's been in New York City, has had meetings with the 4+1 representatives, and perhaps other talks will continue, but thus far, unfortunately, they have not succeeded.
"About four months ago, we announced to them that if you are not able to adhere to your commitments, we will also gradually decrease our commitments in two steps, in two phases. We decreased our commitments, and during the third step, which was announced and began, we hope that before we reach the end of the 60 day period that we have given, we can reach an agreement. But if they can't adhere to their commitments, of course we will take further steps."
On Syria: "During the most recent gathering we had in Ankara, Turkey, in which the three presidents of the three countries, Mr. Putin, Mr. Erdogan, and myself held the discussions. One of the discussions was the topic of security in northern Syria. This is the right of the Turkish government to have security along its borders. But on the other side, it is very important to us as well that the Syrian territorial integrity be maintained. We believe and we have said it in the trilateral talks before that the best solution is that the Americans would exit Syria because part of the problems in northern Syria is being created by American themselves. For the Americans, therefore, to leave Idlib in which terrorists have congregated. It must be cleansed of the terrorist presence, and the Syrian army must be placed along the Turkish border. This is the best solution. Instead of the Turkish army to go along the border, or even over the border and establish itself on Syrian territory. For the Turkish army to remain inside Turkish territory, and the Syrian army be allowed to come to its northern borders and commit mutually to the security of the border lines. This is the solution we offered in the trilateral meetings, and we do hope that the best solution will be found."