Iran ‘will never talk to America,’ supreme leader says as UNGA begins

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Iran will never hold talks with America, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on state television Tuesday morning, effectively killing chances for a rapprochement some had anticipated between leaders of both countries during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meetings taking place this week and next.

“Iranian officials will never talk to America …. this is part of their (U.S.) policy to put pressure on Iran … their policy of maximum pressure will fail,” Khamenei said.

Khamenei’s words come ahead of the high level meetings at the UNGA scheduled for next week, and amid fresh acrimony between Washington and Tehran following major attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure that U.S. officials have blamed on Iran. The attacks on Saudi Aramco’s massive Abqaiq and Khurais plants, which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, forced the state oil giant to shut down half of its production, sending oil prices up by double digits.

Pompeo on Sunday took to Twitter to squarely blame the Iranians, writing, “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” Iranian officials rejected the charge as “meaningless” and “pointless.”

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has appeared reticent to draw as decisive a conclusion, saying on Monday that he’s in no rush to respond to the attacks.

“It’s certainly looking that way at this point,” Trump said, speaking on whether Iran was responsible for the attacks. “I don’t want war with anybody but we are prepared more than anybody … We have a lot of options but we are not looking at options right now.”

“That was a very large attack and it could be met with an attack many, many times larger very easily by our country, but we are going to find out who definitively did it first,” he said.

A Saudi-led military coalition said the attack was carried out by “Iranian weapons” and did not originate from Yemen.

Talks without preconditions or no talks at all?

Speculation surrounding talks between the adversarial states began when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with European diplomats at the G7 summit in France in late August, reportedly as part of a French government attempt to facilitate communication between the two.

Trump has voiced his willingness to talk with the Iranians several times, but Iranian officials have demanded that sanctions be lifted first. The sanctions Washington imposed on Iran beginning last year have crippled its oil exports and much of its economy, sending inflation as high as 50% this year.

But previous U.S. offers of talks without preconditions were sharply rescinded in the wake of Saturday’s attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities, with Trump writing on Twitter that previous reports on the matter were incorrect.

With the departure of Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton on September 10, Iran was reportedly expecting the U.S. to lift some sanctions to allow a meeting between leaders on the sidelines of the UNGA.

Instead, positions have hardened in the wake of Saturday’s attack on Saudi Arabia and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s blaming of Iran. Trump walked back back from his prior promise of talks without preconditions, saying during a bilateral meeting with Bahrain’s crown prince on Monday that there must be preconditions now.

“Well, you know, there were always conditions, because the conditions — if you look at it, the sanctions are not going to be taken off. So if the sanctions — that’s a condition,” Trump said.

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