Trump insists he, not Iran, called off talks with Rouhani at UN
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Trump insists he, not Iran, called off talks with Rouhani at UN

US president confirms Washington, Tehran officials considered a meeting in NY last week, says he balked when Iranian president demanded sanctions relief first

US President Donald Trump speaks during an Armed Forces welcome ceremony for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, Sept. 30, 2019, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump speaks during an Armed Forces welcome ceremony for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, Sept. 30, 2019, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump on Friday confirmed that US and Iranian officials discussed a meeting or call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at last week’s UN General Assembly, but Trump insisted he was the one who called off the plans.

Trump told reporters that “our sides talked” and “Rouhani wanted a meeting at the UN,” but said that Iran wanted sanctions relief as a condition for the meeting.

“I said you must be kidding,” Trump said.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Trump and Rouhani agreed to a four-point plan drafted by Macron that would have seen the two leaders meet and declare a resumption of negotiations.

Tuesday’s report followed a New Yorker article on Sunday that said Macron was close to brokering a phone call between Trump and Rouhani during the UN gathering, but the French president’s secretive effort fell apart because of the Iranian leader’s lack of trust in the US president.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference, in New York, September 26, 2019. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Speculation abounded last month that the leaders could meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly, but Rouhani said he would only hold talks with the US if Trump lifted economic sanctions on Tehran.

Macron used his 48 hours in New York to see Trump three times and Rouhani twice, urging them to engage directly.

Rouhani on Wednesday said that he supports a plan by European countries to bolster his country’s unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but the proposal was scuppered by Trump openly threatening to impose more sanctions.

Speaking during a weekly cabinet meeting in Tehran, Rouhani said: “We agree with the general framework” in which France, Britain and Germany urged Tehran to enter talks about a new arrangement on the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Rouhani said the plan included preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, securing its support for regional peace, lifting US sanctions and the immediate resumption of Iranian oil exports.

He said the plan could have been discussed during his visit in New York last week for the UN General Assembly, but that Trump sank the chances by vowing in his speech to the assembly that not only would sanctions remain in place but “they will be tightened.”

Rouhani accused Washington of sending mixed messages by privately being open to compromise but publicly calling for increased pressure on Iran.

He also thanked Macron for his personal efforts to broker direct talks between himself and Trump.

“He did his best in those 48 hours, especially in the past 24 hours, and we were supportive,” Rouhani said, according to a report from the Iran Front Page news website.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during their meeting on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 24, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“The one who prevented us from achieving a result was the White House,” he added, according to the report. “Neither Paris nor Tokyo and other countries are to blame. All parties, along with Iran, tried hard.”

Tensions have been escalating between Iran and the US since May last year when Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord and began reimposing sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

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. Last 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.

Iran has since warned that any military retaliation would prompt a severe response that would lead to a wide conflict in the region.

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