President Hassan Rouhani confirmed Thursday that Iran has started using advanced models of centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of the Iran nuclear deal and rejected US attempts to blame his country for the attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Rouhani spoke to reporters in New York as the Pentagon announced it will send a Patriot missile defense system, short range air defense radar systems and additional support personnel to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the attack.
Rouhani said Iran has negotiated with the Trump administration about prisoner releases. And he reiterated that Tehran was willing to start talks with Washington again, but only if it lifts sanctions that have steadily intensified under the US “maximum pressure” campaign.
The Iranian President said his country was scaling back its adherence to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known, because Tehran had been complying with the pact, while the Europeans, under pressure from US sanctions, had not followed through on promised trade and economic benefits.
‘Left those limitations’
An International Atomic Energy Agency report seen by Reuters on Thursday said Iran has committed another breach of its nuclear deal with major powers by enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges.
CNN has reached out to IAEA to obtain a copy of the report and seek comments.
“The limitations that we had vis a vis research and development, within the framework of the JCPOA, we have left those limitations,” Rouhani said at a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Rouhani emphasized that Iran has no plan to increase enrichment levels, saying “that is not the scope of what we’re doing.” He said that Iran informed the IAEA beforehand.
“We were living up to our commitments fully and they kept decreasing their commitments,” Rouhani said of the Europeans. “We wanted to create a balance, just as they were decreasing their commitments, we wished to decrease ours as well,” he added, saying that the JCPOA included a formula that allowed for that.
If the other parties to the deal say they will fulfill all of their commitments “immediately, we will also return to all of our commitments … and the temporary actions that we are taking will be reversed.”
Rouhani said again that Iran was willing to enter talks with the Trump administration if it lifted sanctions and alluded to efforts by French President Emmanuelle Macron and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to act as mediators between the US and Saudi Arabia on one hand, and Iran on the other.
“The precondition of America is if it wishes to talk to Iran, the condition is that the sanctions and maximum pressure upon the Iranian people must be implemented and then enter into talks,” Rouhani said.
“We say this is the wrong precondition, this must be taken off the table. The sanctions must be dissolved,” Rouhani added.
He said that Iran had held talks with the Trump administration about a prisoner swap in the past and had even released a dual American citizen – but the Trump administration had not reciprocated with a release of an Iranian.
“Mr. Trump’s administration, we started this type of discussion a couple of different times to speak about the prisoners, and once the Americans announced that if at least one of those held in Iran would be freed, we would take that as a gesture of good will and we would reciprocate,” Rouhani said.
“And this happened on the Iranian side, a dual citizen that had Lebanese and American citizenship was freed, was released. And instead of the Americans to take reciprocal steps to free an Iranian or more, they only thanked Iran,” Rouhani said. “They only made an expression.”
In June, Tehran freed Lebanese-American businessman Nizar Zakka. The State Department issued a statement thanking Lebanese officials and expressing “hope” that it was a positive sign for other American detainees in Iran.
‘Always been ready’
“We have always been ready to do this, we will always be ready, but the ball today stands in America’s court,” the Iranian president said.
Rouhani also denied US accusations that Iran was behind the Saudi Aramco attacks. The US has been adamant that Iran is responsible and has been backed up by the UK, France and Germany, even as Yemen-based Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility.
“We have nothing to do with it,” Rouhani said. “There is a bloody war in the region, a futile and long war that consists of the aggression against Yemen and the people of Yemen have a … right to self defense.”
He added that “all of the world knows that the Yemeni forces and the Yemeni armed forces do possess longer range missiles as well as unmanned aerial vehicles and they have previously attacked different regions of Saudi Arabia. Those who accuse others, those are the parties who should be held responsible to show proof, to show evidence to back up those allegations or accusations.”
Saudi Arabia, with one of the world’s largest defense budgets, was unable to deter the attack. The Pentagon said Thursday the US will deploy approximately 200 support personnel, one Patriot Missile Battery and four short range air defense radar systems at the Kingdom’s request.
“This deployment will augment the Kingdom’s air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure,” Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. He added that additional personnel might be sent in future.
“The Secretary has also approved putting additional forces on Prepare To Deploy Orders (PTDO). While no decision has been made to deploy these additional forces, they will maintain a heightened state of readiness,” Hoffman said.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung, Jennifer Hansler and Elizabeth Joseph in New York, Barbara Starr in Washington and Mohammed Tawfeeq and Deborah Bloom in Atlanta contributed to this report