Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has no intention of meeting his Iranian counterpart at an international gathering this weekend in Singapore, even as President Donald Trump says he is willing to talk with Tehran about its nuclear weapons development program, according to a VOA report.
The top U.S. diplomat and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are both attending Saturday’s meeting of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But a senior U.S. State Department official said Tuesday there are no plans for the two officials to meet.
The official said that North Korea will also be represented at the Singapore meeting, and while chance encounters for Pompeo are possible, no bilateral meetings have been scheduled.
Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 international agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear weapons development in exchange for relief from economic sanctions against Tehran, said Monday he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“I believe in meeting,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “Speaking to other people, especially when you’re talking about potentials of war and death and famine and lots of other things, you meet. There’s nothing wrong in meeting.”
According to the VOA report, Trump noted his recent one-on-one discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin as examples of his direct diplomacy with leaders deemed hostile to U.S. interests.
“So, I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet. I don’t know that they’re ready yet. They’re having a hard time right now,” Trump added. “I’m ready to meet anytime they want to.”
Asked if he had any preconditions for such a meeting, Trump replied: “No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
He said he would wait for an Iranian request to hold such a meeting. “I’m willing to meet with anyone because I believe in personal meetings.”
Trump added that this is a particularly important issue, “given the fact that the risk of non-meeting and disconnection could lead to a real war.”
Later, in an interview with the cable television network CNBC, Pompeo said Trump is prepared to sit down with the Iranians if they “make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior,” and agree it is worthwhile to put in place a nuclear agreement “that actually prevents proliferation.”
Iran responded by saying the path to direct discussions with Washington would have to include the United States returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal between Iran and China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and the European Union was formally called.
“Respecting the Iranian nation’s rights, reducing hostilities and returning to the nuclear deal are steps that can be taken to pave the bumpy road of talks between Iran and America,” Hamid Aboutalebi, an adviser to Rouhani, tweeted.
Analysts do not expect a Trump-Rouhani meeting anytime soon, pointing out that Trump has, for some time, been seeking to meet Rouhani directly without success.
Trump, just eight days ago, issued a direct counterthreat to Tehran in an all-capital-letters tweet in which he sharply warned Rouhani to “never threaten the United States” or the Islamic Republic would suffer historical consequences.
Just hours before that tweet, Rouhani had warned Trump’s policies could lead to “the mother of all wars.”
“No Iranian leader is likely in the near future to meet with a president who has repeatedly threatened Iran, insulted its leadership and violated the nuclear deal,” said Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group.
For its part, Iran reacted skeptically Tuesday to President Trump’s offer to meet but top officials did not reject a sit-down out of hand, according to the VOA report.
Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a senior cleric and member of the influential Expediency Council, said Trump’s suggestion Monday that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani should not be categorically rejected.
“It should be discussed in the Supreme National Security Council,’’ said Nategh Nouri, who is also a former aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nategh Nouri said “we have to contemplate’’ the gesture, but also cautioned “we should not rejoice over this offer and not get excited.’’
“Trump may take advantage of this over-excitement,’’ he said, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. “It could be a test for us.’’
Trump pulled the U.S. out of a deal with several major powers and Iran earlier this year that was meant to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. He’s also said, however, that as renewed sanctions kick in, he expected Iran would call and offer to return to the negotiating table, and that “we’re ready to make a real deal.’’
Former President Obama held a brief phone call with Rouhani in 2013, as the talks that led up to the nuclear deal were getting underway. It was the first time the presidents of the two countries had spoken since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the storming of the U.S. Embassy, which led to the severing of diplomatic ties.
According to the VOA report, in his first public comments after the remarks, Rouhani himself avoided mentioning Trump’s comments, instead stressing the need for the other nations involved in the nuclear deal to forge ahead with their pledges of trying to salvage it.
“Today we are at a very critical point in history regarding the nuclear deal, and Europe’s transparent measures to compensate for the United States’ unlawful withdrawal from it are very important for the Iranian nation,’’ Rouhani said after talks with new British Ambassador Rob Macaire.
Britain, along with China, Germany, France, Russia and the European Union, are negotiating with Iran on preserving the deal.
The Iranian leadership has previously ruled out one-on-one talks with Trump, following his decision to pull the United States out of the deal under which Iran was given relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Rouhani’s political adviser Hamid Aboutalebi as saying that for talks to happen, the U.S. needs to rejoin the deal.
“Those who believe in dialogue as a method of resolving disputes in civilized societies should be committed to the means,’’ he said.
Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear accord in May, saying it was too generous to Iran. He has vowed to ramp up sanctions until Iran radically changes its policies, including its support for the Syrian government and regional militant groups, something the country’s leaders have long refused to do.
Even though Trump said there would be “no preconditions’’ to talks with Rouhani, he also did not walk back from any of those earlier demands.
With the first U.S. sanctions due to come into effect next Monday, the economy in Iran has already been hit, giving rise to growing fears of prolonged economic suffering. Another round, covering other types of commerce, including oil purchases, goes into effect Nov. 4.
VOA reported that Rouhani on Tuesday again suggested Iran could cause major disruptions in the Gulf region by attempting to block key shipping lanes, saying “Iran has never sought tensions in the region and does not want there to be any problem for the world’s waterways, but it will never let go of its right to export oil,’’ the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
According to an INN report, an Israeli political source said that there had been no change in US policy on Iran following Trump’s declaration that he was prepared to meet with the Iranian president without preconditions
“Israel is in constant contact with the American administration, and senior American officials have told Israel that there is no change in the aggressive policy against Iran,” the source said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening released a video in which he tells the story of a fictional young Iranian girl, Fatemeh, who is suffering from the bad economy and censorship in the Islamic Republic.
“Fatemeh may be an imaginary name, but her story is the real story of millions of Iranians. If you want peace, help Fatemeh. Help the people of Iranian to raise their voice against a regime that oppresses them and denies them a life of dignity, prosperity and respect,” he added.
The Iranians, for their part, made it clear that they were not in a hurry to accept the proposal. Iran’s Interior Minister Abdul Raza Rahmani Fazi explained that the United States is unreliable and therefore can not be recognized as a partner for negotiations. Fazi added, “How can we trust them after they unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement?”
By: Fern Sidman