U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States is willing to talk to Iran with "no preconditions" but will continue to pressure the country.
Pompeo made the comments on June 2 after talks with his Swiss counterpart, Ignazio Cassis, in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran.
"We are prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions. We are ready to sit down with them," Pompeo told a joint news conference with Cassis, adding that "the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue."
Responding to Pompeo's remarks, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said that Iran "does not pay attention to word-play." He also ruled out talks between Tehran with Washington unless the United States changes its "general behavior."
Relations between Iran and the United States have plummeted since Washington one year ago pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Tehran.
Since then, Washington has reimposed sanctions, stepped up its rhetoric, and beefed up its military presence in the Middle East, citing "imminent threats" from Iran.
Tehran dismisses the allegations.
Both U.S. and Iranian officials have said that they are not seeking a war.
U.S. President Donald Trump has signaled willingness to negotiate with Iranian leaders, telling reporters on May 30: "If they want to talk, I'm available."
However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has rejected talks with Washington, saying that negotiating with the current U.S. administration would be “poisonous.”
President Hassan Rohani on June 1 suggested that Iran may be willing to hold talks if Washington showed it respect, but said Tehran would not be pressured into talks.
And in an interview with U.S. television network ABC broadcast on June 2, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that it was "not very likely" that Tehran would agree to talks with Washington any time soon.
Trump "is imposing pressure," Zarif said, insisting that "threats against Iran never work."
"Try respect. That may work," he added.
At the joint press conference with Pompeo, Cassis said that Switzerland would be pleased to serve as an intermediary, but not a "mediator," between the United States and Iran. To do so, however, would require requests from both sides, the Swiss foreign minister said.
Cassis did not say whether such a request has been made.
"The situation is very tense and we are fully aware of these tensions. Switzerland, of course, wishes there to be no escalation to violence with Iran," he said, adding: "Both parties are now increasing the pressure and this is a worry for us."
In announcing the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal that curbed Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions, Trump said the terms were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and did not address the country's missile program or its support for militants in the region.
Iran has denied it supports insurgent activity and said its nuclear program was strictly for civilian energy purposes.