Iran's Rouhani says up to US to improve relations with Teheran

ROME (Reuters) - Iran could have better relations with the United States, but it was up to Washington to change its "hostile" stance towards Teheran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday (Jan 27).

"It's possible that Iran and the United states might have friendly relations. But the key to that is in Washington's hands, not Teheran's," Mr Rouhani said in a news conference in Rome before flying to Paris to continue his first trip to Europe since the lifting of sanctions.

He also accused the "Israeli lobby" for being responsible for US hostility towards Iran.

Mr Rouhani is looking to rebuild Iranian relations with the West some two weeks after financial sanctions on Teheran were rolled back following the implementation of its nuclear deal with world powers.

"Iran does not just want trade, but also investment and technology," he said.

He rejected accusations by many Western nations that Iran is funding various militant groups which they deem to be terrorist organisations. "It is clear that Iran is a country opposed to terrorism and a country that fights terrorism," he said.

A pragmatist elected in 2013, Rouhani championed a deal with world powers last year under which Iran curbed its disputed nuclear programme in return for the end of UN, EU and some US sanctions this month.

Other US sanctions remain in place, however, and some Western companies such as banks are expected to take a cautious line towards deal-making with Iran in order to avoid falling foul of Washington.

In a sign of continued strained relations between Teheran and Washington, Iran’s navy warned a US warship to leave the sea of Oman where Iran’s military was holding a naval drill on Wednesday, the Tasnim news agency said.

The agency, close to the Revolutionary Guards, reported that Iran’s navy had given the warning to the ship, which had approached the area, after which it left the area instantly and the situation returned to normal.

Iran had earlier this month detained 10 US sailors – nine men and a woman – after their two patrol boats drifted into Iranian territory.  

US and Iranian officials scrambled to defuse the situation, which had raised alarm in Washington, but after informal talks with Teheran, the Guards said the 10 sailors had been set free.