Iran has suggested to six world powers that it may be open to talks about its ballistic missile arsenal, seeking to reduce tension over the disputed programme.
Tehran has repeatedly vowed to continue building up what it calls defensive missile capability in defiance of Western criticism, with Washington saying the Islamic Republic’s stance violates its 2015 nuclear deal with the powers.
But the sources said that given U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to ditch the deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama, Tehran had approached the powers recently about possible talks on some “dimensions” of its missile programme.
A former U.S. Defense Department official said Iran’s overtures had reached Washington in recent weeks.
“Iran has put feelers out saying it is willing to discuss its ballistic missile programme and is using contacts … officials who were ‘holdovers’ from the Obama administration,” the former official said.
Iran’s reported approach came after Trump called the nuclear accord “an embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. He is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior administration official said on Thursday.
Such a step could unravel the breakthrough agreement – seen by supporters as crucial to forestalling a Middle East arms race and tamping down regional tensions, since it limits Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in exchange for sanctions relief.
The other five powers are Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, all of whom have reaffirmed commitment to the deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his counterparts from the six powers, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the first time, on the fringes of the U.N. gathering on Sept. 20.
A U.S. official with first-hand knowledge of dealings with the Islamic Republic said Zarif had been recycling offers that ”have been lying dormant on the table for some time.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on Friday Tehran’s ballistic missile programme was for defence purposes only and non-negotiable.
The U.S. mission at the United Nations referred Reuters to the U.S. State Department for comment. The State Department declined to comment on whether possible talks on missiles were addressed at the meeting or whether Iran had recently communicated such interest.
The Trump administration has imposed fresh unilateral sanctions on Iran, saying its missile tests violate the U.N. resolution that formalised the nuclear deal. It calls on Tehran not to undertake activities related to missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs.
Iran says it has no such plans and denies breaching the resolution.
Iran has one of the biggest ballistic missile programmes in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defence against the United States and other adversaries, primarily Gulf Arab states and Israel.
Source: International News agencies