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Iran willing to take 'any opportunity' to lift US sanctions, Rouhani says

Iran president's conciliatory remarks draw criticism from Tehran's conservative hardliners for displaying 'over-excitement'
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani chairs cabinet meeting in capital, Tehran, on 11 November (AFP)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran would take "any opportunity" offered to lift US sanctions, following President Donald Trump's defeat by Democrat election rival and now President-elect Joe Biden. 

While Trump had declared Iran an arch-foe and sought to isolate it globally, Biden has proposed to offer Iran a "credible path back to diplomacy".

"Our aim is to lift the pressure of sanctions from the shoulders of our people," Rouhani said in televised remarks during a weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

"Wherever this favourable opportunity arises we will act on our responsibilities. No one should miss any opportunity."

Conservatives blasted Rouhani and his reformist and moderate coalition for displaying "over-excitement" at the prospect of  re-engagement with the US, but the Iranian president warned that "national security and national interests are not factional and partisan issues". 

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Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington escalated after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed, then reinforced, a series of crippling economic sanctions.

Trump's "maximum pressure" policy has shattered the agreement, despite the continued participation of France, Russia, Britain, Germany, China and the EU, which were unsuccessful in attempts to rein in Washington. 

The collapse of the deal, Rouhani's signature foreign policy achievement, bolstered Iran's conservatives, who argued that the US could not be trusted.

US sanctions have deprived Iran of vital oil revenue and isolated its banks, triggering a harsh recession and slashing the value of the rial currency.

Rouhani acknowledged Biden's conciliatory remarks during his campaign, but said Tehran was prepared for sanctions to remain in place.

He noted that his administration had devised its policies on the assumption Trump would stay in office.

'Important changes'

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last week that the result of the US election would have "no effect" on Tehran's policies towards Washington.

Still, on Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry took an approach more similar to Rouhani's, with spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh saying Tehran would be willing to sign up to a new nuclear deal if the US took several steps to correct its "wrong path". 

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"Before anything can happen" in terms of healing the US-Iran relationship, the administration would need to make some "important changes", Khatibzadeh said. 

"We will certainly look closely at the actions and words of the next US administration," he added. 

Among the changes expected were a "change in the thought and mentality of US decision-makers, change in words and speech and the type of speech with the world and Iran, and correct actions, turning back from the wrong path and making up for the past", he said.  

Axios reported on Monday that Trump's outgoing administration plans to impose new sanctions on Iran every week until Biden's inauguration in January.