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Rohani says Tehran will never talk to US under pressure

Hassan Rohani (Official Internet Resources of the President of Russia/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

President Hassan Rohani says Iran will never hold talks with the United States under pressure or from a position of weakness, adding that Tehran’s help was needed in establishing stability in the Middle East.

Speaking on February 16 ahead of parliamentary elections later this week, Rohani also appealed to voters to turn out in spite of the fact that thousands of people who had registered to run were disqualified, including 90 current lawmakers.

The February 21 vote is widely seen as a contest between hard-liners and conservatives after the Guardians Council, a hard-line body which vets all candidates, disqualified most pro-reform and moderate candidates.

The elections will also be a test of the popularity of Rohani, a relative moderate who has struggled to deliver on promises to improve people’s lives under U.S. economic sanctions which have taken a severe toll on the Iranian economy and sent the national currency plunging.

The United States has reimposed the crippling sanctions after exiting a major nuclear deal in 2018 that exchanged curbs on Iran’s nuclear program for sanctions relief.

U.S. President Donald Trump has argued that the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal were not tough enough to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, agreeing curbs to its ballistic-missile program, and ending its support for “proxy” groups across the Middle East.

However, Iranian leaders have repeatedly dismissed talks over any new agreement, saying they are possible only if the United States returns to the accord and lifts sanctions.

Referring to Trump’s Iran strategy, Rohani on February 16 said “America’s ‘maximum pressure’ toward Iran is doomed to failure.”

“Iran will never negotiate under pressure…. We will never yield to America’s pressure and we will not negotiate from a position of weakness,” he said, adding that the Islamic republic will one day force its foe to come to the negotiating table.

The Iranian president, whose country has been involved in decades of regional proxy wars, also said that Tehran’s role was essential for security in the region.

“Securing peace and stability in the sensitive region of the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf is impossible without Iran’s help,” he said.

In early January, an Iranian top military commander was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, escalating tensions in the region. In retaliation, Iran targeted two bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq.

At his press conference, the 71-year-old Rohani ruled out resigning and vowed to see out his second and last term set to end next year.

The president admitted he had offered to resign twice since being elected, and that the offers were rejected by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.