President Donald Trump Wednesday warned Iran against further uranium enrichment but left open the possibility the US could lift sanctions to pave the way to a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani.
Asked if he would ease crippling sanctions to help bring about a meeting with the Iranian leader, Trump replied "we will see what happens," while warning it would be "very, very dangerous" for Iran to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles.
Trump said he believes Iran would like to make a deal because "they have tremendous financial difficulty, and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher".
"We cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon, and they never will have a nuclear weapon," he said.
"If they are thinking about enrichment, they can forget about it. Because it's going to be very dangerous for them to enrich. Very, very dangerous, okay?"
Rouhani has dismissed meeting with Trump, insisting that Washington must lift the sanctions it has imposed on Iran.
"The Americans must understand that bellicosity and warmongering don't work in their favour. Both... must be abandoned," Rouhani told his cabinet earlier Wednesday.
"The enemy imposed 'maximum pressure' on us. Our response is to resist and confront this," he said, referring to the US sanctions.
Trump has used sanctions to step up pressure on Tehran since he pulled the United States out of a 2015 deal under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for a lifting of sanctions.
But speaking the day after he fired John Bolton, an architect of the "maximum pressure" strategy, Trump said his administration was dealing with both Iran and North Korea "at a very high level".
"I think Iran has a tremendous potential. They are incredible people. We are not looking for regime change. We hope that we can make a deal. If we can't make a deal, that's fine, too."
Meanwhile, Rouhani told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a phone call Wednesday that talks with the United States would be "meaningless" unless it lifts sanctions.
The French leader has been spearheading European efforts to salvage a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The deal known, formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been at risk of falling apart since Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
"As Iran's government, parliament and people see it, negotiating with the United States is meaningless as long as sanctions are in place," Rouhani told Macron, according to the government's website.
"If agreements with Europe are finalised, we're ready to return to JCPOA commitments, and a meeting between Iran and the 5+1 is only possible when sanctions are lifted," he added.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played down the ouster of hawkish John Bolton as US national security adviser, saying Washington was still holding to a tough line on Iran.
Citing new US sanctions against Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps that were announced after Bolton was fired on Tuesday, Netanyahu told Israel's Channel 20 TV he "has no doubt that in any situation ... President (Donald) Trump and his administration will be very, very tough with Iran."
Trump speaks to the press in the Oval Office