WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump said Thursday that he is open to talks with the Iranian leadership, amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran and would like to see them call him.
“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask.”
The US president also launched an extraordinary attack on John Kerry, claiming that the former US secretary of state was in touch with Iranian leaders and had told them “not to call.”
“John Kerry, he speaks to them a lot,” Trump said. “He tells them not to call.”
Trump claimed this was a violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits private US citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
“Frankly, he should be prosecuted on that,” he said.
“But they should call,” Trump said. “If they do, we are open to talk to them.”
Trump said the US sent an aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf because the Iranians “were threatening,” telling reporters coyly that “we have information that you don’t want to know about.”
He said the risk of a military confrontation was “always” present, but added that “hopefully that won’t happen.”
“I want them to be strong and great, to have a great economy,” Trump said, adding that “we can make a fair deal.”
Prosecutions of US citizens under the Logan Act, which was enacted in 1799, are extremely rare.
Kerry, as secretary of state under president Barack Obama, was involved in negotiating the agreement aimed at curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.
The 2015 JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and world powers, including the EU, offered sanctions relief to the Islamic republic for scaling back its nuclear program.
Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement last May and reinstated unilateral economic sanctions.
On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would no longer implement parts of the deal and threatened to go further if the remaining members of the pact failed to deliver sanctions relief to counterbalance Trump’s renewed assault on the Iranian economy within 60 days.
A spokesman for Kerry condemned Trump’s remarks as “theater.”
“Everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“He’s wrong about the facts, wrong about the law, and sadly he’s been wrong about how to use diplomacy to keep America safe.
“Secretary Kerry helped negotiate a nuclear agreement that worked to solve an intractable problem,” the statement said. “The world supported it then and supports it still.
“We’d hope the President would focus on solving foreign policy problems for America instead of attacking his predecessors for theater.”