Iran “inching” toward place where talks could be held -Pentagon chief

US Defense Secretary Mark Asper

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that it appeared Iran was inching toward a place where talks could be held, days after U.S. 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 program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Washington has renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran’s crude oil sales by more than 80%.

“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 G7.”

He added: “‘Inching’ is subtle movements and I think that’s a good thing.”

Iran’s foreign minister visited France briefly for side talks during the G7 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 (U.S.) main goal and no one will help the enemy to achieve its goal”, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported.