US President Donald Trump on Sunday denied that he was willing to meet with Iranian leaders with “no conditions,” blaming the “fake news” media for spreading the idea amid speculation he was going to meet with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York.
Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could hold talks during the annual summit of world leaders, possibly in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions the American leader imposed on Tehran after unilaterally withdrawing over a year ago from the 2015 nuclear accord.
“The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, “No Conditions.” That is an incorrect statement (as usual!),” Trump tweeted.
His denial comes despite several top administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, specifically saying so in recent days.
The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, “No Conditions.” That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2019
Mnuchin said Thursday that Trump had made clear “he would sit down with Rouhani with no condition.” And Pompeo told reporters days earlier that “the president has made clear he is happy to take a meeting with no preconditions.”
Iran has said it is unwilling to meet with Trump while crushing sanctions are in place over its nuclear program.
Also Sunday, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump could still meet with Rouhani despite attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend that Washington blamed on Iran.
“I’ll allow the president to announce a meeting or a non-meeting,” Conway told “Fox News Sunday” during an interview. “The president will always consider his options.”
Conway repeated Pompeo’s earlier accusation that Iran was behind a drone attack, claimed by Houthi rebels, on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil processing facility that halved the kingdom’s production.
“You’re not helping your case much,” by attacking civilian areas and critical infrastructure, Conway said, adding that whether or not a Trump-Rouhani meeting happens, Washington will continue its “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran. The policy is aimed at pressing Tehran into renegotiating the terms of the 2015 accord with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The Trump administration wants Iran to agree to stricter terms to the nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons, and also to limit its ballistic missile program. In response to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and the imposition of sanctions, Iran has reduced some of its own commitments to the nuclear deal, which it also signed at the time with Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany.
Asked about the possibility of a retaliatory attack against Iranian oil assets, as suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican close to the US president, Conway said the Trump administration is keeping “many options on the table.”
“Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back,” Graham wrote on Twitter in the hours after the attack.
The attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom’s crude oil production per day, equivalent to over five percent of the world’s daily supply. It remains unclear how King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will respond to an attack targeting what analysts describe as the heart of the Saudi oil industry.
The US, Western nations, their Gulf Arab allies and UN experts say Iran supplies the Houthis with weapons and drones — a charge that Tehran denies. A Saudi-led coalition is battling against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.