BELLINZONA, Switzerland — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Trump administration is ready for unconditional discussions with Iran in an effort to ease rising tensions that have sparked fears of conflict. But the United States will not relent in trying to pressure the Islamic Republic to change its behavior in the Middle East, America’s top diplomat said.

Pompeo repeated long-standing U.S. accusations that Iran is bent on destabilizing the region, but he also held out the possibility of talks as President Trump has suggested. Trump himself had raised the idea of talks “without preconditions” in July 2018, although that was well before tensions had reached their current point.

In the 11 months since then, the U.S. has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, first in November and then again last month, targeting the most lucrative sectors of its economy. The action has drawn Iran’s ire and strong words of threatened retaliation.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said the U.S. must return to the historic 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in May 2018. He was quoted by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency as saying that if the U.S. “realizes that the way it chose was incorrect, then we can sit at the negotiating table and solve any problem.” Otherwise, he said, Iran has no choice but resistance.

While the latest offer may not pan out, Pompeo made it during a visit to Switzerland, the country that long has represented American interests in Iran, as part of a European trip aimed at assuring wary leaders that the U.S. is not eager for war .

“We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with his Swiss counterpart. “We’re ready to sit down with them, but the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”

Iran’s foreign minister dismissed Trump’s invitation for Iranian officials to contact him about possible talks.

“It’s not very likely because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure. He is imposing pressure. This may work in a real estate market. It does not work in dealing with Iran,” Javad Zarif told ABC’s “This Week.”

 


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