BELLINZONA, Switzerland—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Trump administration is ready for unconditional discussions with Iran in an effort to ease rising tensions that have sparked fears of conflict.
But the United States won’t relent in trying to pressure the Islamic Republic to change its behavior in the Middle East, America’s top diplomat said on June 2.
Pompeo repeated long-standing U.S. accusations that Iran is bent on destabilizing the region, but he also held out the possibility of talks as President Donald Trump has suggested. Trump himself had raised the idea of talks “without preconditions” in July 2018, although that was well before tensions had reached their current point.
In the 11 months since then, the U.S. has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, first in November and then again last month, targeting the most lucrative sectors of its economy.
While the latest offer may not pan out, Pompeo made it during a visit to Switzerland, the country that long has represented American interests in Iran, as part of a European trip aimed at assuring wary leaders that the U.S. isn’t eager for war.
“We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with his Swiss counterpart. “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.”
Iran’s foreign minister dismissed Trump’s invitation for Iranian officials to contact him about possible talks.
Pompeo’s meeting with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona came amid rising tension with Iran, a situation that has many in Europe and the Middle East on edge.
Pompeo thanked Switzerland, which serves as the “protecting power” for the United States in Iran, for looking after Americans detained there. Trump administration officials have suggested they would look positively at any move to release at least five American citizens and at least two permanent U.S. residents currently imprisoned in Iran.
Pompeo was in Switzerland on the second leg after Germany of a four-nation tour of Europe, during which he is both trying to calm nerves and stressing that the U.S. will defend itself and not relent in raising pressure on Iran with economic sanctions.
Despite the firm stance, Trump has signaled a willingness to talk with Iran’s leadership.
“If they want to talk, I’m available,” Trump said last week.
The U.S. is sending hundreds of additional troops to the region after blaming Iran and Iranian proxies for recent sabotage to tankers in the Persian Gulf and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
Last month, the administration ended sanctions waivers that had allowed certain countries to continue to import Iranian oil, the country’s main source of revenue. The U.S. also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “foreign terrorist organization.”
On May 31, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog reported that Iran may be in violation of limits on the number of advanced centrifuges it can use under the nuclear deal.
Pompeo declined to comment on the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, other than to say the U.S. is “watching closely” what is going on in Iran.
“The world should be mindful of how we are watching closely how Iran is complying with the requirements that were set out,” he said.