Trump says he's willing to meet Iranian President Rouhani without preconditions

President Trump declared Monday that he would meet Iran’s leaders “anytime they want,” an invitation for face-to-face dialogue with a country he had appeared to threaten with war only days before and an affirmation of Trump’s faith in his brand of personal diplomacy.

Trump said he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions, because “I believe in meeting.”

“No preconditions,” Trump said of a meeting with Iranian leaders. “No. They want to meet, I’ll meet. Anytime they want. Anytime they want. It’s 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.”

Trump was responding to a question at a joint news conference at the White House with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Last week, tension between the United States and Iran escalated after Trump appeared to threaten military action against Iran in a tweet and Iranian officials vowed to resist any attempt to destabilize their country.

[Analysis: Trump’s Iran saber-rattling dates back nearly 40 years]

The United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran next week as part of Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear compact with Tehran. Trump said Monday that he thinks Iran will want to negotiate with him eventually, opening the door to new talks about its nuclear program.

“I believe in meeting. I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet. I don’t know that they’re ready yet,” Trump said. “They’re having a hard time right now.”

That was an apparent reference to economic constraints and the loss of potential markets as a result of the U.S. sanctions.

“I ended the Iran deal. It was a ridiculous deal. I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet,” Trump said.

“And I am ready to meet anytime they want to. And I don’t do that from strength or from weakness. I think it’s an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that’s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.”

Trump also claimed he had “a great meeting” with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Helsinki two weeks ago, despite what he said was unfairly negative press coverage of a session that produced unusual criticism from congressional Republicans. Trump similarly defends his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a bold stroke that has made the world safer.

Iranian state news media reported Trump’s offer to meet Rouhani while noting that there was no immediate official response. The state-run Press TV website reported, however, that Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi had suggested earlier in the day that negotiating with the Trump administration was practically impossible, given what he described as fierce hostility to Iran.

“With current America and these policies, there will definitely not be the possibility of dialogue and engagement, and the United States has shown that it is totally unreliable,” Qassemi said Monday during a weekly news briefing, according to Press TV. He was responding to questions about a previous Trump statement that he was ready “to make a real deal” with Iran.

“Given the current circumstances and hostile actions of the United States, the country’s withdrawal from the [Iran nuclear deal] and continuation of hostile policies, its efforts to put economic pressure on the Iranian people and its sanctions, I think there are no conditions for such a discussion at all,” Qassemi said.

In any case, a meeting with Rouhani would be of questionable value in resolving U.S.-Iranian conflicts, since he wields little real power in the country’s political system. The ultimate political and religious authority in Iran is the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls the armed forces, internal security, the judiciary, the intelligence apparatus, foreign policy and key governmental institutions. Khamenei is known to be staunchly anti-American, often expressing his distrust of the U.S. government. He no longer travels outside Iran and rarely receives foreign dignitaries.

Direct presidential negotiations with Iranian leaders would be another break with Republican orthodoxy and a potential point of friction with Israel and the Persian Gulf allies united in opposition to Iran.

Republicans including Trump were harshly critical of former president Barack Obama for what they said were giveaways during direct negotiations with Iran. Obama spoke to Rouhani but never met him, extending a rift dating to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the taking of American hostages.

For months, Trump has told confidantes that he’s interested in opening up dialogue with Iran even as his administration has tried to isolate Tehran financially and politically. Teams of State Department and Treasury officials have fanned out across the globe pressuring foreign capitals to stop importing Iranian oil and reduce business ties to the country.

In a July 22 tweet composed entirely in capital letters, Trump had warned Rouhani that if Iran threatened the United States again, it would face severe consequences.

Trump’s message came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would step up broadcasts into Iran critical of the country’s theocratic rulers.

“To Iranian President Rouhani: 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. BE CAUTIOUS!” Trump tweeted.

Iran’s state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) replied within hours, dismissing Trump’s tweet and describing it as a “passive reaction” to Rouhani’s remarks.

Earlier the same day, Rouhani said the United States should avoid inciting Iranians against the government as the Trump administration neared an Aug. 3 reimposition of sanctions suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal.

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani told a meeting of Iranian diplomats, according to IRNA.

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