U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he is still hopeful that Iran will agree to negotiate changes sought by the United States in the 2015 nuclear deal, despite the Iranian president's rejection of new talks.
In a news conference late on September 20 after meeting with other parties to the agreement at the United Nations, Tillerson for a second time singled out the deal's "sunset" clauses, which end restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities, such as uranium enrichment, after 10 years in 2025. The restrictions were imposed in exchange for sanctions relief.
The press conference took place after a meeting on Wednesday at the United Nations among the original negotiators of the nuclear deal.
Rex Tillerson and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke directly during the talks, in what a European diplomat described as a "very difficult" meeting.
"Tillerson and Zarif spoke directly for a relatively long time. There was no real great surprise in the positions expressed," a diplomat told Reuters.
The diplomat said there was unanimity that the nuclear deal was being respected, but the debate had not really focused on its implementation.
"There was no real visibility on what the American decision will be in October," the diplomat said.
In his news conference, Tillerson said U.S. President Donald Trump wants those sunset clauses to be renegotiated and, as his chief diplomat and negotiator, he is "optimistic" that Iran will agree to such a renegotiation, even though Iranian President Hassan Rohani ruled that out earlier in the day.
"Never say never," Tillerson said. His call for renewed negotiations over the expiring provisions was seconded by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he had offered to mediate the dispute between Iran and the United States.
Rohani had stressed the difficulty of reaching agreement in a complex deal that involved seven nations, including France, Germany, Russia, China, and Britain, in addition to the United States and Iran.
"It is an agreement that took over two years of negotiation over every single word and every single sentence," he told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
"We were able to agree on mutually acceptable dates and deadlines, so this agreement is not something you can touch. If you take out a single brick, the entire building will collapse," Rohani said.
The European Union's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, also said she opposed reopening negotiations after the meeting on the deal, which she hosted on September 20. She said the agreement "is working" and the EU "will make sure that the agreement stays."
"There is no need to renegotiate parts of the agreement because the agreement is concerning a nuclear program and, as such, is delivering," Mogherini said.
Rohani said the Trump administration's repeated threats to abandon the deal prove that it cannot be trusted to keep an agreement. The nuclear accord was originally negotiated by former President Barack Obama.
"An American government that chooses to trample on her legal and legitimate international commitments, a conversation with such a government would be a waste of time," Rohani said.
Rohani said that, in any case, Trump first must apologize for calling Tehran a "corrupt dictatorship" and "murderous regime" in his first address before the UN on September 19.
"That was extremely offensive to the people of Iran and, before anything, we are waiting for Mr. Trump to issue an apology to the people of Iran," Rohani said.
Macron, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the UN session in New York, said he is willing to reopen negotiations on the expiring provisions and try to mediate other disputes between the United States and Iran because he has concluded that the nuclear agreement did not go far enough.
"Is this agreement enough? No. It is not, given the evolution of the regional situation and increasing pressure that Iran is exerting on the region, and given increased activity by Iran on the ballistic level since the accord," he said, referring to Iran's ballistic-missile tests.
"Let's be honest. The tensions are on the rise. Look at the activities of Hizbullah and Iran's pressure on Syria. We need a clear framework to be able to reassure regional countries and the United States," Macron said.