Iran appears to shut door on Trump-Rouhani meeting

Iran appears to shut door on Trump-Rouhani meeting

Iranian lawmakers reportedly preparing a resolution condemning and prohibiting further talks with the United States

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting during his provincial tour to the North Khorasan, Iran, July 14, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting during his provincial tour to the North Khorasan, Iran, July 14, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran’s top diplomat called a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his US counterpart Donald Trump unthinkable Tuesday, as Tehran appeared to tamp down hopes for a breakthrough between the longtime enemies.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments came two days after he was invited by French President Emmanuel Macron to make an unscheduled trip to Biarritz for talks on the sidelines of the G7 summit, in what was seen as helping herald the diplomatic opening.

“I said during the visit to [G7 meeting in Biarritz, France] that no meeting between the Iranian president and Trump could be imagined. We will not have any bilateral talks until the US joins the G5+1 and implements the nuclear deal; even then there won’t be any bilateral talks (with the Americans),” Zarif was quoted as saying by Iran’s Fars News Agency.

“No meeting will be held with the American officials,” he continued. “We have made it fully clear that the US administration and Trump have violated the agreements which had come after long-time talks between the two countries, and implementation of the past agreements is necessary now and we have not yet seen any considerable sign in this regard on the side of the US administration.”

Trump had said on Monday he was ready to meet with the Iranian president within weeks, but Rouhani on Tuesday dampened hopes by saying that the US would need to scale back punishing sanctions first before he would be game for a summit.

“Without the US’s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development,” Rouhani said in a televised speech on Tuesday, adding that Washington “holds the key” as to what happens next.

Rouhani had initially appeared to support talks with the Americans, defending Zarif’s trip to France after he came under fire from hard-liners.

“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,” he said Monday. “Even if the odds of success are not 90% but are 20% or 10%, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”

In his speech on Tuesday, the Iranian president said his government’s policy of “constructive interaction” with the world was in line with the supreme leader’s approach of “extensive interaction.”

But he stressed the United States had to “retreat from their mistakes” and return to commitments made under the nuclear deal.

Trump has put in place a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran through crippling sanctions that critics see as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East between the US and Iran.

Since the US pullout from the nuclear deal, Iran has lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the accord as the US reimposed and escalated sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude abroad, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani’s U-turn can be seen as a result of pressure from hardliners in the Iranian establishment who oppose taking a softer tone toward the West.

The hard-line Javan daily, which is close to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, warned Rouhani in large font on its Tuesday front page: “Mr. Rouhani, photo diplomacy will not develop the country.”

According to Iran’s Mehr News, Iranian lawmakers led by MP Ahmad Alirezabeigi are preparing a statement condemning and prohibiting negotiations with Washington.

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