Iran 'inching' toward place where talks could be held: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters London, United Kingdom Sep 06, 2019, 03.33 PM (IST)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that it appeared Iran was inching toward a place where talks could be held, days after US President Donald Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York.

"It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it'll play out that way," Esper said at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London.

Friction between the two countries has grown Trump last year withdrew from a 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to rein in its atomic program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Washington has since renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran's crude oil sales by more than 80%

Rouhani on Wednesday said Iran would take another step away from the 2015 deal by starting to develop centrifuges to speed up its uranium enrichment, but he also gave European powers two more months to try to save the multilateral pact.

Separately, the United States refused to ease its economic sanctions on Iran, imposed fresh ones designed to choke off the smuggling of Iranian oil and rebuffed, but did not rule out, a French plan to give Tehran a $15 billion credit line.

The moves suggested Iran, the United States and the major European powers may be leaving the door open for diplomacy to try resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear program even as they largely stuck to entrenched positions.

Trump on Wednesday left open the possibility of a meeting with Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York.

Asked about the possibility of such a meeting, Trump told White House reporters anything was possible. "Sure, anything's possible. They would like to be able to solve their problem," he said, referring to inflation in Iran. "We could solve it in 24 hours."

Story highlights

Friction between the two countries has grown Trump last year withdrew from a 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to rein in its atomic program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.