'It was a mission lifted out of a Hollywood thriller'

Rouhani ‘left Trump hanging’ as Macron failed in secret bid to broker phone chat

Trump was reportedly waiting on the line in call set up by French leader, but Iran’s president refused to talk, doubted US counterpart would meet Tehran’s demand to end sanctions

US President Donald Trump, left, on July 22, 2018, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on February 6, 2018. (AP Photo)
US President Donald Trump, left, on July 22, 2018, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on February 6, 2018. (AP Photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron was close to brokering a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines on the UN General assembly last week, according a Sunday report in the New Yorker, but the French president’s secretive effort fell apart because of the Iranian leader’s lack of trust in the US president.

Trump was waiting on the line, but Rouhani left him hanging, The New York Times elaborated. “President Trump waited on the other end.” All Rouhani had to do “was come out of his hotel suite and walk into a secure room where Mr. Trump’s voice would be piped in via speaker. But he refused to do so, and therefore “Mr. Macron left empty-handed and Mr. Trump was left hanging.”

Officials said Macron had arranged for technicians to install a secure line in Rouhani’s New York hotel suite for a three-way conference call Tuesday evening, but when the French president arrived at the suite and proposed the call, Rouhani refused to participate.

The report said that after Trump’s fiery speech to world leaders earlier on Tuesday in which he called to defund “Iran’s bloodlust,” Rouhani was skeptical the US president would comply with Tehran’s demands to lift sanctions in exchange for renewing dialogue.

He also reportedly feared Trump would exploit their call for positive media coverage.

The Times said Rouhani and his aides were “blindsided by the offer” to talk to Trump, which was presented to them by Macron during on an unannounced visit to their rooms at the Millennium Hilton Hotel. “It was a mission lifted out of a Hollywood thriller,” the paper said.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“As we have been doing for several months, we worked in New York to get Iran to make new commitments and for the US, in exchange, to ease sanctions,” an unnamed French diplomat told the New Yorker.

“We made technical arrangements in the event that a telephone call could take place. That call did not take place.”

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shake hands after a meeting at the United Nations headquarters on September 23, 2019, in New York. (LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

Tensions have risen in the Persian Gulf since May last year when Trump unilaterally abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran and began reimposing crippling sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure.”

Britain, France and Germany have repeatedly said they are committed to saving the deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but their efforts have so far borne little fruit.

Tensions flared again this May when Iran began reducing its own commitments under the deal and the US deployed military assets to the region.

Since then, ships have been attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized. This month, twin attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, which knocked out half the kingdom’s production, drew accusations of blame on Iran from Washington and Europe.

Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks which were claimed by Iran-backed rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

In this photo taken on a trip organized by the Saudi information ministry, a man stands in front of the Khurais oil field in Khurais, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019, after it was hit in a September 14 missile and drone attack blamed on Iran. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

On Sunday, the Iranian oil minister ordered his country’s energy sector to be on high alert to the threat of “physical and cyber” attacks, saying precautions were needed due to American sanctions and the “full-scale economic war” that the Islamic Republic accuses the United States of waging against it.

On Friday Rouhani claimed the US had offered to lift all sanctions against Tehran if Iran agreed to come to the table for nuclear talks, the Reuters news agency reported. The claim was immediately denied by Trump.

Rouhani also said Friday that Iran’s abidance by nuclear inspections proves it does not seek to develop atomic weapons despite having scaled back its compliance with a 2015 accord. Iran fired up advanced centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles on September 7 as the latest scaling back of commitments under the crumbling 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

On Thursday, Rouhani urged the US to “cease this policy of maximum pressure,” saying it was driving the possibility of negotiations even further away.

Addressing the UN on Wednesday, he accused the United States of “merciless economic terrorism” stressing that security in the Persian Gulf can be guaranteed only when his nation’s security is as well.

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