By Steve Holland and Marine Pennetier
CAEN, France (Reuters) – Iran is failing as a nation after Washington imposed powerful sanctions last year, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday, adding that he could turn that around very quickly in talks with the leadership in Tehran.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran would not be “deceived” by Trump’s offer of negotiations and would not give up its missile programme.
Iran and the United States have been drawn into starker confrontation in the past month, a year after Washington pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting international sanctions.
“When I became president, Iran was a true state of terror. They still are and were undisputed champions of terror,” Trump told reporters before holding bilateral talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Caen, western France, after attending a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“They are failing as a nation, but I don’t want them to fail as a nation. We can turn that around very quickly but the sanctions have been extraordinary (in) how powerful they have been.”
Trump has condemned the nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering Iran’s ballistic missile programme or its role in conflicts around the Middle East. He has called on Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal.
“I understand they want to talk and that’s fine, we’ll talk. One thing they can’t have is nuclear weapons,” Trump said.
President Hassan Rouhani, who has taken a softer stance to Khamenei, suggested last week that Iran might be willing to hold talks if the United States showed it respect and lifted sanctions.
Trump insisted that Washington had no differences with his European allies over Iran saying that France also did not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
The European signatories to the 2015 deal – France, Britain and Germany – share the same concerns as the United States over Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional activities.
However, they have defended the nuclear accord saying that at least it puts curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme and can be the basis for future talks.
“I think we do share the same objectives on Iran. We want to be sure they don’t get nuclear weapons. We had an accord until 2025 and we want to go further and have full certainty in the long run,” Macron said.
“(Then) reduce ballistic activity and contain Iran regionally and we have a fourth objective which is peace in the region. To build that we need to start a negotiation. We need to open a new negotiation.”
(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Richard Lough)