Iran closer to talks with US
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper
London - Washington has renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran's crude oil sales by more than 80 per cent.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that it appeared Iran was inching towards a place where talks could be held, days after US President Donald Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Friction between the two countries has deepened since Trump last year withdrew from a 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to rein in its atomic programme in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Washington has renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran's crude oil sales by more than 80 per cent.
"It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it'll play out that way," Esper said at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London.
Asked at a Press conference later what he was basing his comments on, Esper said: "It was in light of some of the comments made by the Iranians in the wake of the G-7. 'Inching' is subtle movements and I think that's a good thing."
Iran's foreign minister visited France briefly for side talks during the G-7 summit of industrialised nations last month, although he did not meet Trump.
There was no sign of any softening in Iran's position on Friday, with Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami saying "Iran will never negotiate with America, which is our enemy's (US) main goal and no one will help the enemy to achieve its goal", Iran's Fars news agency reported.
At the Press conference with Esper, British defence minister Ben Wallace said Britain will always help the United States along a path to talks with Iran if a deal can be made, but Iran should be judged by its actions rather than words.
A senior US defence official said Esper and his French counterpart will discuss on Saturday how France's navy could coordinate with Washington to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran said on Friday it had taken a step to further downgrade its commitments to the 2015 deal with the world's most powerful nations, according to Iranian media.
in retaliation for U.S. sanctions reimposed on Tehran.
"We continue to believe that we need to be enforcing our sanctions to the maximum extent possible," the U.S. official said when asked about Iran's decision to start developing centrifuges to speed up its uranium enrichment.
Germany, one of the signatories to the deal, reacted to Iran's decision on the centrifuges by saying it was not too late for Iran to change course. - Reuters