JEDDAH: Iran issued a new threat on Saturday to boost its nuclear program in defiance of international condemnation, as it emerged that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had snubbed an offer from US President Donald Trump of talks at the White House.
Tehran has said repeatedly that it would breach the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear activities unless the other signatories find ways to shield its economy from US sanctions. Washington pulled out of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), last year.
Last month, Iran threatened to restart deactivated centrifuges and increase enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, both breaches of the JCPOA.
“The third step in reducing commitments to the agreement will be implemented in the current situation,” Zarif said on Saturday.
“We have said that if it is not completely implemented by others then we will also implement it in the same incomplete manner. And of course all of our actions have been within the framework of the JCPOA.”
Trump withdrew from the agreement last year and reimposed a raft of economic sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy. Last week the US extended sanctions to Zarif himself, blocking any property or interests he has in the US. Zarif said he was proud to be penalized by America “for defending the rights of Iranian people.”
However it emerged at the weekend that last month, at the height of a crisis over Iranian harassment of commercial shipping in the Gulf, Zarif had rejected an invitation from Trump for talks at the White House.
The offer was extended by Senator Rand Paul with permission from the president. Zarif said it was up to Tehran to decide whether to accept it, and in any case he would not agree to a White House meeting that produced only a photo opportunity and a two-page statement.
Trump has said that although Iran is a corrupt, incompetent and dangerous regime, and a threat to regional security and US interests, he is open to talks.
Meanwhile US Defense Secretary Mark Esper was in discussions with allies in Asia on Saturday about a contribution to a US-led force to protect shipping from Iranian state piracy in the Strait of Hormuz.
“I think we’ll have some announcements coming out in the coming days, where you’ll see countries begin to sign up,” Esper said.