Iran’s Zarif was invited to meet Trump at White House last month — report

Invitation extended by Rand Paul with US president’s blessing, New Yorker reports; Tehran said to say no, after its FM worried such a meeting would just be a photo op

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was invited to meet US President Donald Trump in the White House last month, The New Yorker reported Friday.

The invitation was extended, reportedly with Trump’s blessing, by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at a meeting with the Iranian diplomat in New York on July 15, American and Iranian sources, along with a well-informed diplomat, told the magazine.

On July 14, Paul met with Trump for discussions on Iran while playing a round of golf.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment about the invitation on the record to the New Yorker.

US President Donald Trump, left, listens as Sen. Rand Paul, right, speaks at a rally at Alumni Coliseum in Richmond, Kentucky, October 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

According to the report, an intermediary reached out to the Iranians on Paul’s behalf before Zarif arrived in New York for meetings at the United Nations.

Sources said Zarif told Paul he was not able to unilaterally decide to meet with Trump without consultations with Tehran, and was worried that the meeting would ultimately be little more than a photo opportunity.

In the end, Tehran did not consent to the visit.

At the meeting between Zarif and Paul, the two discussed the recent flare-up of tensions in the Gulf as well as the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

According to the report, Zarif offered Paul advice on ending the stalemate over the nuclear pact, as well as how to address some of Trump’s concerns. One idea was that Iran could legislate a 2003 and 2010 fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forbidding both the production and use of nuclear weapons.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with a group of clerics, in Tehran, Iran, July 16, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Zarif also reportedly suggested Iran could advance ratification of the Additional Protocol, which allows inspectors “to conduct complementary access to any location in Iran.”

Zarif on Saturday announced that the Islamic Republic intends to make another move to reduce its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement, according to parliamentary news agency ICANA cited by Reuters.

“The third step in reducing commitments to [the nuclear deal] will be implemented in the current situation,” Zarif said.

“We have said that if [the deal] is not completely implemented by others then we will also implement it in the same incomplete manner. And, of course, all of our actions have been within the framework of [the deal],” he said.

The United States on Wednesday imposed financial sanctions on Zarif as part of its escalating campaign of pressure against Iran.

Responding, Zarif tweeted: “The US’s reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world.’ Is the truth really that painful?

“It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (2R) gestures during a high level political forum on sustainable development on July 17, 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added Zarif’s name to a list of blacklisted people, according to a statement on its website. Individuals and companies added to the list of Specially Designated Nationals have their assets blocked, and Americans are prohibited from dealing with them. Washington also will seek to curtail Zarif’s international travel.

The move came as the US has both pushed ahead with a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and also tried to cajole it into talks for a new nuclear deal, after the US withdrew last year from the 2015 pact that Zarif helped negotiate. Trump has long rejected the nuclear deal, saying it was too generous to Tehran and did not address its involvement in regional conflicts.

At the same time, tensions have been escalating over Iran’s moves to increase uranium enrichment beyond limits set by the deal, part of a bid to pressure Europe into helping it find a way to avoid the punishing sanctions, particularly against its oil sector.

The row has been exacerbated by alleged Iranian harassment and attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, and the downing of a US spy drone, and a build up of US forces in the region.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi last month told Iranian lawmakers that the country will restart activities at the Arak heavy water facility, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing a lawmaker who was at the meeting.

Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran’s atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The industrial complex at Arak in western Iran was a key topic in negotiations due to its nuclear reactor and heavy-water production facility, which were still under construction at the time.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in July warned European countries that if they are not able to provide enough economic incentives despite the US sanctions then Iran will restart construction of the Arak facility and bring it to the condition that “according to you, is dangerous and can produce plutonium.”

Heavy water is used as a coolant in nuclear reactors that produce plutonium, which when enriched can be used for nuclear weapons.

Under the terms of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Iran said in May it would disregard certain curbs the deal set on its nuclear program and threatened to take further measures if remaining parties to the pact, especially European nations, did not help it circumvent the US sanctions.

Nuclear experts are concerned that the recent measures taken by Iran, breaking an enriched uranium stockpile limit and enriching uranium beyond an agreed purity, will shorten the current year-long window the country would need to produce enough nuclear of the material needed for a weapon.

Efforts by European powers, notably France’s President Emmanuel Macron, to salvage the nuclear deal have so far come to nothing.

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