America hints at nuclear talks after Iranian G7 comments
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said it appeared Iran was inching toward a place where talks could be held, days after President Donald Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Friction between the two countries has deepened since Mr Trump last year withdrew from a 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to rein in its atomic programme to gain relief from economic sanctions.
Washington has renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran's crude oil sales by more than 80pc.
"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," Mr Esper said at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London.
Asked what he was basing his comments on, he said it was "in light of some of the comments made by the Iranians in the wake of the G7".
He added: "'Inching' is subtle movements and I think that's a good thing."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Sharif visited France briefly for side talks during the G7 summit last month, although he did not meet Mr Trump.
However, there was no sign of any softening in Iran's position in Tehran, with Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami saying: "Iran will never negotiate with America, which is our enemy's main goal and no one will help the enemy to achieve its goal."
However, Mr Rouhani last Tuesday that while Iran would never hold bilateral talks with Washington, it could join multilateral talks between Iran and other parties to the accord if Washington lifted all sanctions it had reimposed on Iran.
The following day Mr Rouhani gave European powers two more months to try to save the multilateral pact.
Washington also rebuffed, but did not rule out, a French plan to give Tehran a $15bn (€13.6bn) credit line.
Mr Trump on Wednesday left open the possibility of a meeting with Mr Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York.
"Sure, anything's possible," he said.
"They would like to be able to solve their problem [referring to inflation in Iran]. We could solve it in 24 hours."
Iran denies ever having sought a nuclear bomb.
At a press conference with Mr Esper, British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said the UK will always help the US along a path to talks with Iran if a deal can be made, but Iran should be judged by its actions rather than words.
Mr Esper and his French counterpart Florence Parly are expected to discuss today how France's navy could co-ordinate with Washington to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran said yesterday it had taken a step to further downgrade its commitments to the 2015 deal with the world's most powerful nations in retaliation for US sanctions.
"We continue to believe that we need to be enforcing our sanctions to the maximum extent possible," a US official said when asked about Iran's decision to start developing centrifuges to speed up its uranium enrichment.