US must stop hostile stance to improve relations, says Rouhani

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ROME: The United States cannot solve any problems in the Middle East without Iran’s help and should drop its “hostile” stance towards Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.

On his first official visit to Europe, Rouhani also took a swipe at regional arch rival Saudi Arabia, saying its military campaign in neighbouring Yemen was a failure and a frustration.

Rouhani is midway through a four-day trip to Italy and France, looking to burnish his country’s international credentials following the signing last year of a nuclear accord with world powers and the lifting of financial sanctions.

While EU firms are lining up to sign lucrative business deals, the United States is keeping some of its sanctions in place, accusing Tehran of funding what it considers to be terror groups, and ties between the two nations remain terse.

“It’s possible that Iran and the United States might have friendly relations. But the key to that is in Washington’s hands, not Tehran’s,” Rouhani told a news conference, saying he would be happy to see US businessmen in Iran.

“I would like to see the Americans set aside their hostility and chose another way, but inside the US there are some problems, there is no unified voice,” he said, noting that “the Zionist lobby” was “very influential”.

He also rejected accusations that Iran was funding terror organisations. “It is clear that Iran is a country opposed to terrorism and a country that fights terrorism,” he said.

The United States is the dominant foreign power in the Middle East, sporting close ties with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, and is militarily involved in both Iraq and Syria, where it is battling the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

“The Americans know very well that when it comes to important regional issues they cannot achieve anything without Iran’s influence or say,” Rouhani said, speaking through a translator.