We will negotiate if US lifts sanctions, says Iranian foreign minister

Javad Zarif is in New York for a UN meeting this week

FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif attend a news conference in Moscow, Russia May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Monday that his country wanted to avoid a war with the US, but insisted it must lift crippling sanctions on Tehran to pave the way for talks.

“Once those sanctions are lifted, then the room for negotiation is wide open,” Mr Zarif told NBC during a visit to New York for a UN conference.

In another interview with BBC's Hard Talk, Mr Zarif said if there is a war, no-one in the region will be safe.

"But let us try to avoid one. We don't need a war," he said.

On Monday, the US granted him a visa to attend after it was approved by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It limits Mr Zarif’s movement to the UN headquarters, the Iranian embassy and his quarters – all within six blocks.

“It is the United States that left the bargaining table and they’re always welcome to return,” he said.

Last year, Mr Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of international sanctions.

Although other world powers have not withdrawn from the agreement, it looks increasingly likely that the deal will collapse, after tension in the Arabian Gulf escalated and Iran announced it was exceeding the uranium enrichment to which it had agreed.

Britain announced last week that it was sending a naval destroyer to the region to de-escalate the crisis. The US is also sending more military assets.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that there was a small but diminishing window of opportunity to rescue the 2015 nuclear agreement.

But Mr Hunt also warned that Tehran was a year away from developing a nuclear weapon.

Despite the trading of barbs and several oil tanker attacks in the Gulf in recent months, Mr Zarif said that, like Washington, Tehran does not want conflict.

“I do not believe that President Trump wants war,” he said. “But I believe that people are around him who wouldn’t mind.”

One of the people to whom the minister was probably referring was John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, who has regularly raised the prospect of a war with Iran.