US President Donald Trump reiterated his openness to meeting with his Iranian counterpart on Monday, telling reporters that he had no objections to holding a face-to-face negotiation with President Hassan Rouhani.
“Sure, anything’s possible. They would like to be able to solve their problem,” Reuters reported him telling members of the White House press corps. “We could solve it in 24 hours.”
Trump spoke hours after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear weapons development site, and urged the international community to step up sanctions pressure on the regime.
The US president’s comments also came a day after Rouhani told his country’s parliament that Tehran’s response to such American overtures “will always be negative.”
The Iranians have stated repeatedly that they will not meet with Trump unless the US repeals sanctions imposed as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against their country.
Last Wednesday, Trump would not rule out meeting with Rouhani, even as his administration piled more sanctions on Tehran. Asked at the White House whether he might meet with the Iranian leader at the United Nations, he responded: “Sure, anything is possible.”
Rouhani had announced earlier Wednesday that Tehran was poised to take another step back from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the US withdrew last year. A short time after Rouhani’s statement, US officials announced new sanctions on Iran, this time targeting a shipping network it said was run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to smuggle oil.
Last Monday, Trump said he was ready to meet with the Iranian president within weeks. Rouhani replied by saying that the US would need to scale back punishing sanctions first before he would be game for a summit. Subsequently, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called a meeting between the two leaders unthinkable.
The US president’s openness to a meeting with Iran’s leader set off alarm bells in Israel.
Rouhani had initially appeared to support talks with the Americans, but later backed off.
“We’ve said it before time and again, and we say it again: We have no intention to hold bilateral talks with the United States,” Rouhani said last Tuesday, according to a report from Iran’s Mehr news agency. “We never did and never will. It has been the case in the past year and a half, and even in previous years.”
Since the US pullout from the nuclear deal, Iran has lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the accord as the US reimposed and escalated sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude oil abroad, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.
Despite Tehran’s repeated rejections of Trump’s overtures, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last Friday that he believed that Iran appeared to be nearing a situation in which talks could be held with the United States on a new deal that would limit its nuclear program “forever.”
“It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks,” Esper said.