Trump, Swiss leader said to discuss setting up channel for Iran talks

Washington again expresses interest in communicating with Tehran, which has so far refused negotiations, as crisis mounts

US President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General William Barr during the 38th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the US Capitol, May 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General William Barr during the 38th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the US Capitol, May 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump was set to meet with Swiss government officials on Thursday in an effort to open a communications channel with Iran.

Trump is set to meet with Ueli Maurer, president of the Swiss Confederation, at the White House to discuss “Switzerland’s role in facilitating diplomatic relations and other international issues,” the White House said, according to a Thursday CNN report.

Trump has expressed interest in speaking with the Iranians, although Tehran has not reciprocated, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying that negotiations with Washington would be “poison.”

As the US and Iran have no diplomatic ties, the Swiss embassy in Tehran handles US interests in the country and serves as a diplomatic channel between Washington and the Islamic Republic. Switzerland also hosted negotiations to finalize the nuclear deal.

Swiss Federal President Ueli Maurer addresses the media after talks with Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, January 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Last week, the White House contacted Swiss officials and gave them a phone number for Iran to call Trump directly.

A source told CNN that the Swiss were unlikely to hand over the phone number to Iran unless they were asked to, and that Iran was unlikely to make such a request.

On May 9, Trump said he was open to talks with the Iranian leadership.

“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.”

Tensions between the two countries have soared in recent weeks with a war of words between American and Iranian leaderships, allegations of sabotage attacks targeting oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline claimed by Yemen’s Iranian-allied rebels, and the dispatch of US warships and bombers to the region.

A helicopter loads cargo onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea as the ship’s strike group makes its way to the Persian Gulf, May 8, 2019. (US Navy/Michael Singley)

At the root of the recent spike in Persian Gulf tensions appears to be Trump’s decision a year ago to pull the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, embarking on a maximalist sanctions campaign against Tehran to cripple the country’s economy.

Last week, US officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on US forces and interests in the Middle East, but Washington has not publicly provided any evidence to back up claims of an increased Iranian threat.

Iran’s supreme leader said on Tuesday that “there is not going to be any war” with the United States, but that there will also be no renegotiation of the nuclear deal.

In a speech to state officials, Khamenei said the showdown between the Islamic Republic and the United States was a test of resolve rather than a military encounter.

“This face-off is not military because there is not going to be any war. Neither we nor them [the US] seek war. They know it will not be in their interest,” he said, as quoted on the official website.

On Wednesday, however, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps warned Tehran was on the brink of full-on conflict with its enemy.

US sailors launch a fighter jet from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier while transiting the Red Sea, May 10, 2019. (Jeff Sherman/US Navy)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday in Sochi, Russia: “We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran.”

The US State Department on Wednesday ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq, and Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country.

On Monday, Trump rejected a report saying he was considering sending 120,000 troops to counter Iran, but didn’t rule out deploying “a hell of a lot more” soldiers in the future.

Also on Wednesday, Iran formally dropped the limitations on uranium enrichment and the production of heavy water that were laid down in its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an official from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced.

The official said the move was in accordance with instructions from Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and was part of a recent 60-day Iranian ultimatum for renegotiating the pact, the regime-affiliated Iranian Students News Agency reported.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed