Iran’s foreign minister has said that in New York US officials tried to engage with him, but he demanded the release of $10 billion of Iran’s frozen funds.
In a 90-minute interview with the state television Saturday evening Hossein Amir-Abdollahian defended his diplomatic record during his trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Some pundits and media in Iran have cautiously criticized him for adopting a tough position during his meetings with Western European diplomats, which many saw as a bad sign for the future of the nuclear talks.
Amir-Abdollahian said that US officials used intermediaries trying to establish direct contact with him, which he refused, saying that Washington should unfreeze $10 billion of Iran’s money frozen abroad, as a goodwill gesture.
"The Americans tried to contact us through different channels (at the UN General Assembly) in New York, and I told the mediators if America's intentions are serious then a serious indication was needed ... by releasing at least $10 billion of blocked money," he said.
Iran suspended talks in Vienna in June aimed at restoring the Obama-era nuclear deal, JCPOA, abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. Original signatories of the agreement had held six rounds of talks since April, but Tehran said it needed more time after a new hardliner president was chosen in June.
While Tehran insists that its new government needs time to prepare, it is common knowledge that an important issue such as nuclear negotiations take place under the direct supervision and guided by the decisions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Meanwhile, Iran has continued enriching uranium and has delayed the resumption of the talks leading to concerns among Western powers that they might reach a point where a return to the JCPOA would not be possible. They have been reiterating that message for the past one month, including in New York.
In fact, a planned meeting of the remaining JCPOA members in New York was cancelled, further instilling pessimism regarding the talks. Asked about the reason for not holding the meeting, Amir-Abollahian said Iran was not ready to have a multilateral meeting, as the new government is still studying the history of the talks and is not ready.
He added that in recent years a meeting of JCPOA foreign ministers was routine occurrence, “but this year it was not an ordinary issue.” He said that he told the foreign ministers the United Kingdom, France and Germany in separate meetings that Iran will return to the talks when it is ready.
In his most notable remark, the Iranian foreign minister said he told Josep Borrell the EU foreign affairs chief that Tehran “would never return to [the situation prevailing] eight years, five years or even one year ago.” Amir-Abdollahian added in the TV interview, “We would not come to the negotiating table to drink coffee with you.