(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration is prepared to hold talks with Iranian regime representatives “without preconditions,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday.
He added, however, that the U.S. “effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”
Speaking during a visit to Switzerland, Pompeo was asked about a comment by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the weekend to the effect that the regime was willing to engage with the U.S., but not under threat.
Press TV quoted Rouhani as telling Iranian athletes in Tehran on Saturday, “we support logic and negotiation if [the U.S.] sits at the negotiating table and fully respects and follows international regulations, not if it issues a decree to negotiate. In that case we will not buy it.”
Responding to the question during a press availability with his Swiss counterpart, Pompeo said, “We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions. We’re ready to sit down with them.”
“But the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue,” he added.
Echoing repeated statements by National Security Advisor John Bolton, President Trump during his recent visit to Japan reiterated that “regime change” in Iran is not his administration’s policy.
Going further, he added that Iran “has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership.”
“We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear,” Trump said in Tokyo last Monday. “We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”
In fact the administration has made clear it has more expectations of Tehran than just those relating to its nuclear activities; it is looking for a change in the regime’s behavior on a number of fronts.
In a speech 13 month ago, Pompeo laid down 12 requirements expected of Iran, ranging from ending support for terrorism and military involvement in Syria to releasing U.S. citizens and ending the development and launching of nuclear-capable missiles.
Recent weeks have witnessed particular tensions in the region, with the U.S. deploying additional troops and assets, and blaming attacks on ships and oil infrastructure on Tehran and its surrogates.
Switzerland has served as the U.S. protecting power in Iran since U.S.-Iran diplomatic ties were severed in 1979, and Pompeo’s visit at this time stoked speculation about behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to engage with the regime.
Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis indicated that his government has been involved in communications over recent weeks with the foreign ministry in Tehran, and stressed that its potential role was not that of a mediator, but of an intermediary – and only then if both sides want it.
He said the situation was “very tense,” and that Switzerland of course hoped there would be “no escalation to violence.”
The two ministers appeared to disagree over the effect of U.S. sanctions on Iran. They were restored last year after Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
“There is suffering for the sanctions which have been applied on Iran,” said Cassis. “These sanctions, of course, cause suffering, suffering in the Iranian people.”
Pompeo pushed back, saying that while there were “real challenges” in Iran today, “they’re not caused by our economic sanctions.”
“They’re caused by 40 years of the Islamic regime not taking care of its people, instead using their resources to destroy real lives, to use resources to underwrite Hezbollah, to using resources to fight in Syria, where six million human beings – six million people – have been displaced because of Iranian activity in support of the Assad regime there. They have used their resources in ways that fundamentally undermine the well-being of their own country.”
In an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was asked how likely it was that the Iranians would take up Trump’s offer to talk.
“It’s not very likely, because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure,” he replied. “He is imposing pressure. This may work in a real estate market, it does not work in dealing with Iran.”
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, last month once again ruled out negotiations with the United States.