Iran vows to continue missile work, dismisses EU powers’ U.N. letter

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Thursday rejected pressure to shelve its ballistic missile program after a European letter to the U.N. Security Council accused Tehran of developing missiles capable of being delivering nuclear bombs.

The British, German and French ambassadors to the U.N. Security Council, in a letter circulated on Wednesday, called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to inform the Council in his next report that Iran’s missile program was “inconsistent” with a U.N. resolution underpinning the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers.

Iran responded defiantly, saying it was determined to proceed with its disputed ballistic missile program, which it has repeatedly described as defensive in purpose and nothing to do with its nuclear activity.

“Iran is determined to resolutely continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles,” Iranian U.N. envoy Majid Takhte Ravanchi said in a letter to Guterres.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had earlier on Thursday denounced the European powers’ intervention.

“Latest E3 letter to UNSG on missiles is a desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own #JCPOA obligations,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the nuclear deal by its formal acronym. He urged Britain, France and Germany not to bow to “U.S. bullying”.

The European letter surfaced at a time of heightened friction between Iran and the West, with Tehran rolling back its commitments under the deal step by step in response to Washington’s pullout from the pact last year and reimposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic that has crippled its economy.

A 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles that could be capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

Some states – including Russia, which with four other world powers wields a veto on the Security Council – argue that the language does not make it obligatory.

France said on Thursday that Iran’s ballistic missile activities did not conform with the Security Council resolution and called on Tehran to respect all of its obligations under that resolution.

The Security Council is due to meet on Dec. 20 to weight the state of compliance with the resolution underpinning the nuclear deal, and the European letter “will add to that discussion,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters.

Britain, France and Germany have sought to salvage the nuclear pact, under which Iran undertook to curtail its disputed uranium enrichment program in return for relief from sanctions. But Tehran has criticized the three European powers for failing to shield Iran’s economy from the U.S. penalties.

The United States, Iran’s arch foe, and its allies in the Middle East view Tehran’s ballistic missile program as a Middle East security threat.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran launches nuclear enrichment at underground Fordow plant, IAEA confirms

Iran launches nuclear enrichment at underground Fordow plant, IAEA confirms
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has begun enriching uranium at its underground Fordow site in the latest breach of its deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed on Monday, adding that Tehran’s enriched uranium stock has continued to grow.

Iran is contravening the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities step by step in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the accord last year and its renewed sanctions on Tehran. Tehran says it can quickly undo those breaches if Washington lifts its sanctions.

In a quarterly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency policing the deal confirmed Iran’s announcement last week that it had begun enriching uranium at its Fordow site buried inside a mountain, something prohibited by the deal. “Since 9 November…, Iran has been conducting uranium enrichment at the plant,” said the confidential IAEA report, obtained by Reuters.

Iran’s stock of enriched uranium has increased, to 372.3 kg, well above the deal’s 202.8 kg cap. The maximum fissile purity to which Iran has enriched uranium so far, however, remains 4.5 %, above the deal’s 3.67% cap but still well below the 20% Iran has achieved before and the 90% required for atomic bomb fuel.

Iran has continued to enrich with centrifuge machines other than its most basic model, the IR-1, which is not allowed under the deal, the IAEA report added. It has enriched with more advanced centrifuges and even installed small numbers of centrifuges not mentioned in the deal, the report showed.

Iran said last week it was working on a advanced prototype of centrifuge that could enrich 50 times as fast as the IR-1, deemed by experts as antiquated and prone to breakdown.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden

By Johan Ahlander and Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington have broken off, North Korea’s top negotiator said late on Saturday, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.

The talks, at an isolated conference center on the outskirts of Stockholm, were the first such formal discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

“The negotiations have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off,” Kim told reporters outside the North Korean embassy, speaking through an interpreter.

The U.S. State Department said Kim’s comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of more than 8-1/2 hours of talks, and Washington had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.

“The U.S. brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its DPRK counterparts,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

She said the U.S. delegation had previewed a number of new initiatives that would pave the way for progress in the talks, and underscored the importance of more intensive engagement.

“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean peninsula through the course of a single Saturday,” she added.

“These are weighty issues, and they require a strong commitment by both countries. The United States has that commitment.”

North Korea’s Kim downplayed the U.S. gestures.

“The U.S. raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach, new method and creative solutions, but they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiation table,” he said.

Swedish broadcaster TV4 said the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the team, had arrived back at the U.S. embassy in central Stockholm.

The Swedish foreign office declined to give details on the invitation for new talks, or whether Pyongyang had accepted.

Since June, U.S. officials had struggled to persuade North Korea, which is under sanctions banning much of its trade, due to its nuclear program, to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when the North abruptly announced it had agreed to talks.

On Saturday, negotiator Kim accused the United States of having no intention of solving difficulties through dialogue, but said a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was still possible.

It would only happen “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt,” he said, in an apparent reference to North Korea’s desire for Washington to ease economic pressure.

On Sunday, China’s President Xi Jinping and the North’s leader exchanged messages to reaffirm the neighbors’ relationship on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. China is the North’s only major ally.

Xi, who has met Kim five times in the past year, said they had “reached a series of important consensuses, leading China-North Korea relations into a new historical era”, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Kim replied the two leaders would “resolutely safeguard the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the world,” Xinhua reported.

TENSIONS

The delegation from North Korea arrived in Sweden on Thursday. Analysts have said both countries’ leaders had growing incentives to reach a deal, but it was unclear if common ground could be found after months of tension and deadlock.

The readout from the talks did not sound very promising, said Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project.

“I think (North Korea’s) expectations were too high that the removal of Bolton would provide more flexibility on what the U.S. wants as initial steps,” she said, referring to Trump’s hardline former aide John Bolton, abruptly fired last month amid disagreements on how to tackle foreign policy challenges.

“While certainly it removes some pressure for an all or nothing deal, it seems the gap between what the two sides want as a baseline and are willing to reciprocate still has not narrowed,” Town added.

An official at South Korea’s presidential office said the talks in Sweden were nevertheless the beginning of negotiations, and that South Korea hoped the United States and North Korea would keep the momentum of the dialogue.

Only a day after announcing the new talks, North Korea said it had test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, underscoring the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.

Speaking in Athens on a tour of southern Europe while the talks were still underway, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said he was hopeful of progress.

“We are mindful this will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time and that there remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams,” he told a news conference.

(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson, Niklas Pollard and Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michele Kambas in Athens, Joori Roh and Ju-min Park in Seoul, Andrea Shalal and Julia Harte in Washington, Huizhong Wu and Hallie Gu in Beijing; Writing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

North Korea fires ballistic missile, possibly from submarine, days before talks

By Joyce Lee and Chang-Ran Kim

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired what may have been a submarine-launched ballistic missile from off its east coast on Wednesday, a day after it announced the resumption of talks with the United States on ending its nuclear program.

If confirmed, it would be the most provocative test by North Korea since it started the talks with the United States in 2018. Analysts said it was likely a reminder by Pyongyang of the weapons capability it had been aggressively developing as it gears up for the new round of talks.

A State Department spokeswoman called on Pyongyang to “refrain from provocations” and remain committed to the nuclear negotiations.

South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch of one missile that flew 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 km (565 miles). It was likely a Pukguksong-class weapon, as the North’s earlier submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) under development were known.

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary committee that the Pukguksong, or Pole Star in Korean, has a range of about 1,300 km (910 miles) and that the missile’s trajectory may have been raised to reduce the distance it traveled.

CNN, citing a U.S. official, said that the missile was launched from an underwater platform, which North Korea has previously done at the early stage of the SLBM program in 2015.

South Korea expressed concern and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch, saying it was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea rejects U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology, saying they are an infringement of its right to self-defense.

Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been stalled since a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February ended without a deal.

The two leaders then met at the Demilitarized Zone border between the two Koreas in June and pledged to reopen working-level talks within weeks.

SEA LAUNCH

South Korea’s military said the missile was launched eastward from the sea northeast of Wonsan, the site of one of North Korea’s military bases on the east coast.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it appeared that one missile was launched and had split in two and then fallen into the sea. The Japanese government had said earlier it appeared North Korea had launched two missiles, one of which fell inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

South Korea’s Jeong, asked about Japan’s earlier assessment of two missiles, said the missile might have had at least two stages that separated in flight.

North Korea had been developing SLBM technology before it suspended long-range missile and nuclear tests and began talks with the United States that led to the first summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

State news agency KCNA released photos and a report of leader Kim Jong Un in July inspecting a large, newly built submarine, seen as a potential signal that Pyongyang was continuing with its development of an SLBM program.

The latest missile launch was the ninth since Trump and Kim met in June, but the others have been of short-range land-based missiles.

David Wright, missile expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, put the range of the missile tested on Wednesday at about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) at standard trajectory.

Hours before Wednesday’s launch, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said in a statement the working-level talks with the United States would be held on Saturday – a development that could potentially break what had been months of stalemate.

North Korea’s previous missile launch was on Sept. 10, also hours after Choe had expressed Pyongyang’s willingness for talks with the United States.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said: “North Korea tends to raise the stakes before negotiations in an effort to win unearned concessions.”

Trump has played down North Korea’s recent series of short-range launches, saying in September the United States and North Korea “didn’t have an agreement on short-range missiles” and that many countries test such weapons.

Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the timing of the latest launch enhances leverage for the North and also signals Pyongyang is in for the long haul in its talks with Washington.

“The risk is that testing such a system causes the U.S. to walk away before this weekend, but Kim probably bet that the U.S. is so invested in the talks taking place and making progress … that the U.S. won’t walk away.”

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Chris Gallagher and David Dolan in Tokyo, and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Iranian president says U.S. offered to remove all sanctions on Iran in exchange for talks

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures at the conclusion of his address to the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States offered to remove all sanctions on Iran in exchange for talks but Tehran has not yet accepted the offer due to the current “toxic atmosphere”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday.

Rouhani, speaking on his return from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said he met there with U.S. officials at the insistence of Germany, Britain and France.

“It was up for debate what sanctions will be lifted and they (the United States) had said clearly that we will lift all sanctions,” Rouhani said, according to his official website.

Iran was ready for negotiations but not in an atmosphere of sanctions and pressure, the Iranian president said.

“This action wasn’t in a manner that was acceptable, meaning that in the atmosphere of sanctions and the existence of sanctions and the toxic atmosphere of maximum pressure, even if we want to negotiate with the Americans in the 5+1 framework, no one can predict what the end and result of this negotiation will be,” he said.

Crude slipped on the report, adding to earlier losses caused by a faster-than-expected recovery in Saudi output, slowing Chinese economic growth, a Wall Street Journal report saying that Saudi Arabia had agreed a partial ceasefire in Yemen. Brent crude was trading below $62 a barrel. [O/R]

Rouhani did not meet U.S. President Donald Trump in New York and European and Gulf officials expect Washington to keep tightening the vice on Iran’s economy.

The United States and Iran are at odds over a host of issues, including the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, U.S. accusations – denied by Tehran – that Iran attacked two Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14, and Iran’s detention of U.S. citizens on what the United States regards as spurious grounds.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Rouhani says Iran resists sanctions, drives U.S. “desperate”

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday new U.S. sanctions blacklisting Iran’s central bank for a second time pointed to U.S. “desperation” in the face of Iranian resistance.

President Donald Trump last year quit a 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers, reimposing and then tightening sanctions that had been lifted under the deal in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

The United States on Friday imposed further sanctions, including on Iran’s central bank which was already blacklisted, following Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Riyadh and Washington have blamed on Iran.

“Americans are sanctioning institutions that have already been blacklisted. This signals America’s complete desperation and shows that it’s “maximum pressure” has failed … as the great Iranian nation has resisted successfully,” Rouhani said in remarks carried by state television.

Tehran has flatly denied any involvement in the attacks which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s civil war.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday Britain believes it is very likely Iran was behind the Sept 14 attacks. He said London will work with the United States and European allies to reduce tensions in the Gulf.

“If Iran was behind this attacks, nothing would be left of this refinery,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States aimed to avoid war with Iran and the additional troops ordered to be deployed in the Gulf region were for “deterrence and defense”.

“As a diplomat both secretary Pompeo and I should try to avoid war, not to wage war,” said Zarif.

Iran has threatened a crushing response to any military strike following the Sept 14 attacks, though it said the Islamic Republic had no desire for conflict in the Gulf region.

“The region has become intense … They make propaganda about damage (in Saudi ) which can be repaired in two weeks … because America wants to conquer the region,” Rouhani said.

The president said he would introduce a regional peace plan dubbed HOPE (Hormuz Peace Endeavour) at the United Nations General Assembly this week.

“All countries of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and the United Nations are invited to join,” Rouhani said before leaving for New York to attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

Iran’s Khamenei rejects talks with United States

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will never hold one-on-one talks with the United States but could engage in multilateral discussions if it returns to the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday, according to state television.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he could meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, possibly at the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.

“Iranian officials, at any level, will never talk to American officials … this is part of their policy to put pressure on Iran … their policy of maximum pressure will fail,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying.

Khamenei said Iran’s clerical rulers were in agreement on this: “All officials in Iran unanimously believe it.

“If America changes its behavior and returns to (Iran’s 2015) nuclear deal, then it can join multilateral talks between Iran and other parties to the deal,” Khamenei said.

Trump has stepped up sanctions against Iran since last year when he withdrew from the nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers and reimposed sanctions that were lifted under the deal in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

In retaliation for the U.S. “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the pact and plans to further breach it if the European parties fail to keep their promises to shield Iran’s economy from U.S. penalties.

“If we yield to their pressure and hold talks with Americans … This will show that their maximum pressure on Iran has succeeded. They should know that this policy has no value for us,” said Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have spiked following a weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia that sent oil prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict.

Trump said on Monday it looked like Iran was behind the attacks but stressed he did not want to go to war. Iran has denied any involvement.

Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, said the attacks were carried out with Iranian weapons and it was capable of responding forcefully.

Saudi Arabia urged U.N. experts to help investigate the raid.

(Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Robert Birsel)

Iran supreme leader ups ante in volatile stand-off with U.S.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves during ceremony attended by Iranian clerics in Tehran, Iran, July 16, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader upped the ante in a volatile stand-off with the United States on Tuesday, warning Tehran would continue removing restraints on its nuclear program and retaliate for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker.

Tensions have spiked since U.S. President Donald Trump last year abandoned world 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.

European parties to the pact decided on Monday not to trigger the deal’s dispute mechanism in favor of pursuing more talks and avert any U.S.-Iranian military conflict, but took no action to shield Iran against a sanctions clampdown by Trump.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate authority, accused Britain, Germany and France of failing to uphold obligations under the deal to restore Iranian access to global trade, especially for Tehran’s oil exports blocked by U.S. sanctions.

“According to our foreign minister, Europe made 11 commitments, none of which they abided by. We abided by our commitments and even beyond them. Now that we’ve begun to reduce our commitments, they oppose it. How insolent! You didn’t abide by your commitments!” Khamenei said, according to his website.

“We have started to reduce our commitments and this trend shall continue,” Khamenei said in remarks carried by state television.

IRAN FUMES OVER EU INACTION

He has previously upbraided European powers for not standing up to Trump and circumventing his sanctions noose. Russia and China are also parties to the accord.

But it was the first time Khamenei explicitly pledged to press ahead with breaches of the nuclear deal, spurning European appeals to Iran to restore limits on enrichment aimed at obviating any dash to developing atomic bombs.

“So far, efforts to win gestures from Iran to de-escalate the crisis are not succeeding (as) Tehran is demanding the lifting of sanctions on its oil and banking sectors first,” a European diplomatic source told Reuters. 

Iran has long denied any intent to acquire nuclear weapons and has said all its breaches could be reversed if Washington returned to the deal and its economic dividends were realized. Tehran has accused Washington of waging “economic war”.

“Western governments’ major vice is their arrogance,” Khamenei said. “If the country opposing them is a weak one, their arrogance works. But if it’s a country that knows and stands up against them, they will be defeated.”

IAEA inspectors last week confirmed Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5% fissile purity, above the 3.67% limit set by its deal, the second breach in as many weeks after Tehran exceeded limits on its stock of low-enriched uranium.

The level at which Iran is now refining uranium is still well below the 20% purity of enrichment Iran reached before the deal, and the 90% needed to yield bomb-grade nuclear fuel. Low-enriched uranium provides fuel for civilian power plants.

European Union foreign ministers, in a meeting on Monday, deemed Iran’s violations not to be “significant”, drawing Israeli accusations of appeasement recalling failed diplomacy with Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War Two.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday Iran remained “a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb”, adding there was still a “small window to keep the deal alive.”

The Europeans are trying to set up Instex, a barter-based trade conduit with Iran but it would initially deal only in items not subject to U.S. sanctions — such as pharmaceuticals and foods. Iran has said Instex must include oil sales or provide substantial credit facilities for it to be beneficial.

“PIRACY”

Khamenei also said Iran would respond to Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure in early July of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar.

“Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship … and gives it a legal appearance. The Islamic Republic…will not leave this wickedness unanswered and will respond to it at an appropriate time and place,” he said.

Iran has called on Britain to immediately release the vessel, which was detained by British Royal Marines on the suspicion that it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Tehran’s close ally Syria.

Washington says it is applying “maximum pressure” on Iran to agree stricter limits on its nuclear capacity, curb its ballistic missile program and end support for proxy forces in a Middle East power struggle with U.S.-backed Gulf Arabs.

Fears of direct U.S.-Iranian conflict have risen since May with several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, and a plan for U.S. airstrikes on Iran last month that Trump aborted at the last minute.

In what loomed as another obstacle to trouble-shooting diplomacy, Iran confirmed on Tuesday it had detained French-Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah but declined to elaborate, a day after Paris demanded information on her case.

Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting a number of dual nationals to try and extract concessions from the West – a charge the Islamic Republic has repeatedly dismissed.

Iran’s rial currency appears to have stabilized despite the brewing confrontation with the United States, gaining about 13% since early May after a 60% plunge last year.

Analysts said that not only was Iran’s forex market growing used to the tensions but the central bank had propped up the rial through injections of hard cash and steps to ensure the return of dollars earned from exports.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Iran supreme leader says he has no intention to make or use nuclear weapons

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran, Iran June 13, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – Iran has no intention of making or using nuclear weapons, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Thursday by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Khamenei’s comment, a reiteration of Iran’s stance, comes at a time of increased U.S.-Iranian tension, a year after Washington abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international financial sanctions.

“Supreme Leader Khamenei made a comment that the country will not and should not make, hold or use nuclear weapons, and that it has no such intentions,” Abe told reporters in Tehran following a meeting with Khamenei.

“Today, I met Supreme Leader Khamenei and heard his belief in peace. I regard this highly as a major progress toward this region’s peace and stability,” said Abe, the first-ever Japanese prime minister to hold talks with Khamenei.

Abe’s comment was broadcast on Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

On Wednesday, Abe warned of unintended clashes in the crisis-hit Middle East after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Abe was visiting Iran to help ease rising tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Japan is in a unique position to act as a mediator as the U.S. ally has long maintained close ties with Iran.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Iran sees no prospect of negotiations with U.S.: foreign ministry

FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran sees no prospect of negotiations with the United States, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program was possible.

Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to strangle Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.

Trump said on Monday: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”

Asked about Trump’s comments in a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency: “We currently see no prospect of negotiations with America.”

“Iran pays no attention to words; What matters to us is a change of approach and behavior.”

Trump also said that United States was not looking for regime change in Iran, adding that “we are looking for no nuclear weapons.”

Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Tuesday the country was not allowed to pursue the development of nuclear weapon as this was banned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet)