President Donald Trump said that he’d “certainly meet” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and without preconditions, if the Iranian leader was willing.
Speaking on Monday at a joint media briefing with Italy’s premier, Trump said he would meet the Iranians “anytime they want to”.
“I’ll meet with anybody,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with meeting”
The overture comes as Trump and the Iranians have been escalating their rhetoric, after Trump’s May withdrawal from the landmark nuclear accord.
The US has also vowed to boost sanctions until Iran changes its regional policies, including its support for regional militant groups.
The first of those sanctions are to come into effect on Monday.
Iranian officials reacted sceptically yesterday, with Iran’s semi-official Isna news agency quoting political adviser Hamid Aboutalebi as saying that for talks to happen, the US needs to rejoin the nuclear deal.
It’s unclear whether Rouhani has any interest in meeting Trump.
Rouhani’s chief of staff claimed earlier this month in Iran’s state-owned newspaper that Rouhani had rejected eight requests from Trump for one-on-one talks last year.
Rouhani recently warned the US that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars”, prompting this retort from Trump:
“To Iranian President Rouhani,” he wrote on Twitter in capital letters. “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.
"We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death." Trump ended the message with a warning, again in capital letters: “Be cautious!”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired back with his own message that began, “Color US unimpressed”.
Trump tempered his threatening rhetoric two days later, when he said his administration stands ready for Iran to come back to the negotiating table.
“We’re ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster,” he said.
Trump has long cast himself as a master negotiator, who is most effective when he meets with his counterparts face-to-face. He pointed to his recent one-on-ones with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as examples of the benefits of such get-togethers.
“I believe in meeting,” he said, talking up the benefits of “speaking to other people, especially when you’re talking about potentials of war and death and famine and lots of other things”.
Asked whether he would set any preconditions for the meetings, Trump was clear.
“No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I’ll meet anytime they want, anytime they want,” he said. “Good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Monday that he was onboard with the president’s invitation, saying Trump “wants to meet with folks to solve problems”.
But he appeared to add several qualifications: “If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their maligned behaviour, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him.”
Early reaction on Capitol Hill was mixed, with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, who is often critical of Trump, telling reporters: “I actually think that’s a good idea.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairperson Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, characterised the overture as “fine". - African News Agency (ANA)