Iran’s ex-president says he and Trump almost held meeting in 2019

Hassan Rouhani says former US president refused to accept demand that meeting on sidelines of UN General Assembly be reported only after it had occurred

Then-Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran, Iran, February 16, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Then-Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran, Iran, February 16, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Former US president Donald Trump and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani nearly held a meeting on the sidelines of 2019’s UN General Assembly but the meeting was scrapped due to a failure to agree on conditions, Rouhani has written in a soon-to-be-released book.

According to Rouhani, the sides had been close to an agreement but Trump refused a key Iranian condition: that the meeting only be reported on after the fact.

Rouhani wrote his claim in the book “Without Smoke, Fire and Blood,” in which he summarizes his eight-year tenure as Iran’s president. Rouhani was succeeded by the more hardline Ebrahim Raisi last August.

Both France and the UK had encouraged Trump to meet with Iran after he withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and the media was rife with speculation that the two could meet in New York in September 2019.

The accord provided Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for limiting nuclear activity. Trump quit the deal, which he called weak, and imposed harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic in a bid to force it into greater concessions, but that effort failed.

Iran instead gradually withdrew from the deal and revamped its nuclear activity.

European and other world powers had hoped that the 2019 US meeting with Iran could help bring both sides back to the fold.

Then-US president Donald Trump speaks during the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019. (Don Emmert/AFP)

“Everything was ready for direct negotiations,” Rouhani wrote. “The American side expressed that Trump was impatiently interested in the meeting.”

But the former Iranian leader said Trump “emphasized that he should announce the news of the meeting and then the meeting will take place. It was clear to me that Trump is an actor. He was not an ordinary person. He played every moment. He was a capable actor. I was worried that he would spread the news about the meeting and then disrupt the game. We said: first the meeting, then the news.”

Rouhani said that “finally, we came to the conclusion that it is not possible to have an equal and honest conversation with Trump.”

Under Raisi and new US President Joe Biden, Iran and the US are now attempting to renegotiate the sides’ return to the accord. Only last week, reports indicated an agreement could be close, but the US has now said Tehran has made unconstructive new demands, and it remains unclear whether a deal will be reached.

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