Iran's supreme leader says 'no talks with the U.S. at any level'
Tensions escalate after a weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia
Iran's supreme leader announced on Tuesday that "there will be no talks with the U.S. at any level" — remarks apparently meant to end all speculation about a possible U.S.-Iran meeting between the two countries' presidents at the UN later this month.
Iranian state TV quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying this is the position of the entire leadership of the country and that "all officials in the Islamic Republic unanimously believe" this.
"There will be no talks with the U.S. at any level," he said.
Khamenei said Iran's clerical rulers were in agreement on this: "All officials in Iran unanimously believe it."
"If America changes its behaviour and returns to [Iran's 2015] nuclear deal, then it can join multilateral talks between Iran and other parties to the deal," Khamenei said.
Trump has stepped up sanctions against Iran since last year when he withdrew from the nuclear pact and reimposed sanctions that were lifted under the deal in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.
In retaliation for the U.S. "maximum pressure" policy, Iran has gradually scaled backed its commitments to the pact and plans to further breach it if the European parties fail to keep their promises to shield Iran's economy from U.S. penalties.
"If we yield to their pressure and hold talks with Americans … this will show that their maximum pressure on Iran has succeeded. They should know that this policy has no value for us," said Khamenei.
There had been reports about a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the upcoming UN General Assembly this month in New York.
U.S.-Iran tensions flair
But tensions roiling the Persian Gulf have escalated following a weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. alleged Iran was responsible for — a charge Iran denies.
The attack — which set ablaze a crucial Saudi oil processing plant and a key oil field — was claimed by Iranian-allied Houthi rebels, who are at war with a Saudi-led coalition that is trying to restore Yemen's internationally recognized government to power.
Trump declared Monday it "looks" like Iran was behind the explosive attack on the Saudi oil facilities. But he stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key U.S. Mideast ally.
Oil prices soared worldwide amid the damage in Saudi Arabia and fresh Middle East war concerns. But Trump put the brakes on any talk of quick military action — earlier he had said the U.S. was "locked and loaded" — and he said the oil impact would not be significant on the U.S., which is a net energy exporter.
The Saudi government called the attack an "unprecedented act of aggression and sabotage" but stopped short of directly pinning blame on Iran.
Trump, alternating between aggressive and nonviolent reactions, said the U.S. could respond "with an attack many, many times larger" but also "I'm not looking at options right now."
American officials released satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom's Abqaiq processing plant and a key oil field, and two U.S. officials said the attackers used multiple cruise missiles and drone aircraft.
Private experts said the satellite images show the attackers had detailed knowledge of which tanks and machinery to hit within the sprawling Saudi oil processing facility at Abqaiq to cripple production. But "satellite imagery can't show you where the attack originated from," said Joe Bermudez, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who examined the images.
The U.S. alleges the pattern of destruction suggested Saturday's attack did not come from neighbouring Yemen, as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there. A Saudi military alleged "Iranian weapons" had been used.
The Saudis invited the UN and other international experts to help investigate, suggesting there was no rush to retaliate.
With files from Reuters