US wants to hear from top Iranian leaders as tensions build

US President Donald Trump said on July 19 the US "immediately destroyed" an Iranian drone that approached the USS Boxer (above) near the Strait of Hormuz, but officials in Teheran denied losing one.
US President Donald Trump said on July 19 the US "immediately destroyed" an Iranian drone that approached the USS Boxer (above) near the Strait of Hormuz, but officials in Teheran denied losing one.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Trump administration wants to hear directly from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, about whether the Islamic Republic is interested in negotiations, a US official said.

The official spoke to reporters in Washington on Friday (July 19) amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the US "immediately destroyed" an Iranian drone that approached the USS Boxer near the Strait of Hormuz, but officials in Teheran denied losing one.

Iran and the US have been at loggerheads since last year, when Mr Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear agreement he called the "worst deal ever".

In May, the administration refused to extend waivers to eight governments for Iranian oil purchases, ratcheting up the pressure on the country's already battered economy.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Mr Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Thursday told reporters at the Iranian mission to the United Nations that he's willing to meet with US senators to discuss possible ways out of the nuclear dispute with the Trump administration, according to the New York Times.

But he also said Iran's escalation of its nuclear enrichment programme could be reversed if the US drops sanctions that Mr Trump imposed after withdrawing from the nuclear agreement.

 
 

'TREMENDOUS PROBLEMS'

The Trump administration doesn't believe Mr Zarif has significant decision-making authority, the official said.

That's why the administration wants to hear from Mr Rouhani or the supreme leader.

Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that he's in no hurry for a deal, as Iran is having "tremendous problems" because of US sanctions.

"We can do something quickly or we can take our time," he said. "I'm in no rush."

While US officials say they're open to talks without preconditions, Iran's government wants some easing of the sanctions that have crippled oil sales and undermined its economy.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has laid out a list of 12 conditions he says Iran will have to meet before sanctions are lifted.

Iran's economy has been crippled by the ratcheting up of US sanctions that have restricted the Opec member's oil sales, fuelled inflation and undermined domestic support for Mr Rouhani's government.

Fears of a new Middle East war climbed after a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, the downing of an American drone and the British seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian oil.

Countering Teheran's denial that an Iranian drone was downed, the US official said the Trump administration has clear evidence for its assessment and added that it may release video of the incident later.