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Iran hints at talks with US

June 25, 2019 00:00:00

Javad Azari Jahromi

TEHRAN, June 24 (Reuters): Iran said on Monday US cyber attacks on its military had been a failure, while also hinting that it could be willing to discuss new concessions with Washington if the United States were to lift sanctions and offer new incentives.

The longtime foes have come the closest in years to a direct military confrontation. After Iran shot down a US drone last week, US President Donald Trump said he had called off a retaliatory strike while bombers were in the air, deciding that too many people would die.

US media have reported that the United States launched cyber attacks even as Trump called off the air strike. The Washington Post said on Saturday that the cyber strikes, which had been planned previously, had disabled Iranian rocket launch systems. US officials have declined to comment.

"They try hard, but have not carried out a successful attack," Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran's minister for information and communications technology, said on Twitter.

"Media asked if the claimed cyber attacks against Iran are true," he said. "Last year we neutralised 33 million attacks with the (national) firewall."

Allies of the United States have been calling for steps to defuse the crisis, saying they fear a small mistake on either side could trigger war.

"We are very concerned. We don't think either side wants a war, but we are very concerned that we could get into an accidental war and we are doing everything we can to ratchet things down," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

The escalation began last year when the United States abandoned a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. It accelerated sharply last month when Trump tightened sanctions sharply, ordering all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

Recent weeks have seen the confrontation gain a military dimension, with the United States blaming Iran for attacks on vessels at sea, which Iran denies. Iran shot down the drone last week, saying it was in its air space, which Washington disputes.

Washington also blames Iran for attacks on Saudi targets from Yemen, where a Saudi-led alliance is fighting the Iran-backed Houthi group.

Washington argues that the 2015 nuclear agreement known as the JCPOA, negotiated under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, did not go far enough, and that new sanctions are needed to force Iran back to the table to make more concessions.

Throughout the escalation, both sides have suggested they are willing to hold further talks but said the other side must first alter its behavior. In the latest comment from Tehran, an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani repeated a longstanding demand that Washington lift sanctions in line with the deal.

But the adviser, Hesameddin Ashena, also tweeted a rare suggestion that Iran could be willing to discuss new concessions, if Washington were willing to put new incentives on the table that go beyond those in the deal.

"If they want something beyond the JCPOA, they should offer something beyond the JCPOA; with international guarantees."

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying on Monday Tehran did not "want a rise of tensions and its consequences".

Trump said on Sunday he was not seeking war with Iran and would be prepared to seek a deal.

US allies in Europe and Asia view the decision to abandon the nuclear deal as a mistake, arguing that it strengthens hardliners in Iran and weakens the pragmatic faction of Rouhani.

Trump has suggested that he backed off the military strike against Iran in part because he was not sure the country's top leadership had intended to shoot down the drone. However, an Iranian commander said Tehran was prepared to do it again.

"Everyone saw the downing of the unmanned drone," navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi was quoted on Sunday as saying by the Tasnim news agency. "I can assure you that this firm response can be repeated, and the enemy knows it."

Iranian media showed new images on Monday of what they described as pieces of the wreckage of the downed drone, which they said were recovered at sea by a fisherman off Iran's southern coast. Other parts of the wreckage were displayed last week by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in Tehran.

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