'We'll see what happens,' Trump says on loosening sanctions

Trump said to mull easing Iran sanctions to secure Rouhani meeting

Report says proposal to ease economic pressure on Tehran was met with strong pushback by Bolton, who left the US administration the next day

US President Donald Trump, with First Lady Melania Trump, speaks to the press in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on September 11, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)
US President Donald Trump, with First Lady Melania Trump, speaks to the press in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on September 11, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

US President Donald Trump suggested easing sanctions on Iran to get a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, prompting strong pushback by his then national security adviser John Bolton, according to a report Wednesday.

Bolton left the White House on Tuesday amid a series of policy disagreements with Trump, including on Iran, which has been battered by American sanctions imposed as part of the US president’s pullout from the international accord limiting Tehran’s nuclear program.

Trump has repeatedly expressed his willingness to sit down with Rouhani but Iran has ruled out such a meeting unless sanctions are first lifted.

According to Bloomberg, when the idea of easing sanctions was raised at an Oval Office meeting on Monday, US Treasury Secretary expressed support for the move as a way of facilitating negotiations with Iran, but Bolton argued against it.

Then-national security adviser John Bolton, left, listens as US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, January 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The report said Trump decided later that day to push out his national security adviser, though Bolton has said it was he who offered his resignation.

Asked by reporters following the publication of the report if he would consider loosening sanctions on Iran, Trump did not rule out doing so.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Citing three unnamed people, Bloomberg said the US administration has begun laying the groundwork for a potential meeting between Trump and Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, which begins later this month.

Israeli officials, who lauded Trump for pulling out of the nuclear deal and imposing punishing sanctions on Iran, have reportedly expressed dismay over the possibility of a Trump-Rouhani meeting.

One possibility is for Trump to join a meeting between Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron, the report said.

Macron has been pushing for a rapprochement between the US and Iran as part of his efforts to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, which Tehran has curbed its compliance with to protest the inability of the accord’s remaining signatories to provide sanctions relief.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)

On Wednesday, Macron and Rouhani spoke by telephone, with Iran’s Fars news agency reporting the Iranian president saying there was no point to talks with the US unless sanctions were lifted.

Rouhani, in a phone call with Macron on Wednesday, appeared to rule out talks with the US without Washington first rolling backing sanctions.

As long as sanctions remain, “negotiating with the US makes no sense,” Rouhani said, according to his official website.

He reiterated that lifting US sanctions would bring Tehran back to the negotiating table with world powers, but the post to his official website detailing the call with Macron did not elaborate on what might be up for negotiation.

The Iranian leader also repeated his position that if Europe finalizes a way for Iran to sell its oil, Tehran would return to the nuclear deal’s commitments.

Earlier in the day, Rouhani appeared to signal happiness with the decision to oust Bolton, calling to “put warmongers aside.”

“Americans have to realize that warmongering and warmongers are not to their benefit,” the Iranian president said in televised remarks. “They should not only abandon warmongering but also abandon their maximum pressure policy.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin laugh as they speak with reporters in the briefing room of the White House during a briefing on terrorism financing Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The US has not signaled that Bolton’s departure would lead to any change in its stance on Iran. At a press conference on Tuesday alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mnuchin stressed the US would maintain its “maximum pressure” campaign.

Ali Rabiei, an Iranian government spokesman, said hat Bolton’s dismissal may help the US have a “less biased” attitude toward Iran.

Though he stressed the dismissal was an internal US issue, Rabiei called Bolton “the symbol of America’s hawkish policies and its animosity toward Iran.”

Other Iranian officials insisted the departure would have no effect on US policy toward Tehran.

Gen. Mohsen Rezaee, a commander in the powerful Revolutionary Guard and its former chief, said in a tweet: “We will not be deceived by the sacrificing of Bolton.”

“As the world… was breathing a sigh of relief” over his ouster “Pompeo and Mnuchin declared further escalation of #EconomicTerrorism against Iran,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.

“Thirst for war — maximum pressure — should go with the warmonger-in-chief,” he said, referring to Trump.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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