US President Donald Trump said on Monday a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme was possible, saying his administration’s economic sanctions were curbing Tehran’s activities, despite recent attacks in the Middle East.
“I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen,” Mr Trump said, while standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
“It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership. We aren’t looking for regime change, I just want to make that clear. We are looking for no nuclear weapons.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons, adding on Twitter that US policies were hurting the Iranian people and causing regional tension.
“Actions, not words, will show whether or not that’s Donald Trump’s intent,” Mr Zarif said on Twitter.
President Hassan Rouhani said in October that the US was seeking regime change in Iran, and that Mr Trump’s administration was the most hostile Tehran had faced in its four decades.
Tension increased after this month’s attack on oil tankers off the UAE coast, and another on Saudi oil pumping stations and a pipeline.
Washington, a firm backer of Saudi Arabia, blamed the attacks on Iran.
The US has sent a carrier strike group and bombers to the Gulf and has announced plans to ship 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Saturday that the White House had “deep and serious” intelligence on threats posed by Iran, without providing details.
Mr Trump, on a four-day visit to Japan, welcomed Mr Abe’s help in dealing with Iran after broadcaster NHK said Japan’s leader was considering a trip to Tehran as early as mid-June.
Iran said a visit was unlikely in the near future.
“I know for a fact that the prime minister is very close with the leadership of Iran and we’ll see what happens,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Abe said Japan would do what it could on the Iran issue.
Mr Trump last year withdrew the US from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is increasing sanctions seeking to end Iran’s international sales of crude oil and strangle its economy.
Japan was a major buyer of Iranian oil for decades before US sanctions.
“They were fighting in many locations,” Mr Trump said of Iran. “Now they are pulling back because they have serious economic problems.”
Mr Bolton, who has led an increasingly agressive US policy on Iran, described the recent attacks off the UAE and in Saudi Arabia, and a rocket attack near the American embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone, as “manifestations of concern” about Iran.
Iran has distanced itself from the bombings and on Sunday, Mr Zarif said his country would defend itself against any military or economic aggression.