US Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin said Thursday that a proposed meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, is not yet in the cards.
“As of now, there is no plan for the president to meet with him, although the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions,” Mnuchin told CNBC in an interview.
The treasury secretary seemed to deny a Wednesday report that Trump was mulling easing sanctions on the Islamic Republic to make a meeting happen.
“Let me just clarify this — that Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo, I, and the rest of the national security team are executing on a maximum pressure strategy with Iran,” he said. “There’s no question that it’s working. We have cut off their money.”
He credited the strategy with pushing Iran toward talks: “And that’s the reason why if they do come back to the negotiating table, they are coming back.”
He added: “If the president can get the right deal, that he’s talked about, we’ll negotiate with Iran. If not, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign, which is working.”
Rouhani has said bilateral talks with the US are useless unless sanctions are lifted first.
The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that Trump was actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion line of credit to Iran in return for the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
Four sources with knowledge of the US president’s conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron told the news outlet that Trump “has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining” the proposal.
According to a New York Times report earlier this month, which cited a US official and Iranian reports, the proposed sum is aimed at salvaging the accord after Trump withdrew from the pact last year and reimposed biting sanctions on Iran, including on its oil sector.
The $15 billion package would make up for about half of Iran’s annual oil sales, the report said, and ease some of the economic pressure on it.
The credit line would be guaranteed by future crude sales and the Trump administration would issue waivers on sanctions, the Daily Beast reported. Spokespeople for the State Department, White House, and Treasury did not comment on the story.
Such a step would likely be vociferously opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied against the Iran deal and pushed for punishing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Rouhani has had a series of phone calls with Macron in recent weeks aimed at rescuing the ailing nuclear deal. The French leader has been trying to convince the United States to offer Iran some sort of relief from sanctions.
Trump on Wednesday warned Iran against further uranium enrichment but left open the possibility the US could lift sanctions to pave the way to a meeting with Rouhani.
Asked if he would ease crippling sanctions to help bring about a meeting with the Iranian leader, Trump replied, “We will see what happens,” while warning it would be “very, very dangerous” for Iran to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles.
Trump said he believes Iran would like to make a deal because “they have tremendous financial difficulty, and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher.”
“We cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon, and they never will have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “If they are thinking about enrichment, they can forget about it. Because it’s going to be very dangerous for them to enrich. Very, very dangerous, okay?”
Rouhani has dismissed the prospect of such a meeting as long as sanctions remain in place.
“The Americans must understand that bellicosity and warmongering don’t work in their favor. Both… must be abandoned,” Rouhani told his cabinet earlier Wednesday.
“The enemy imposed ‘maximum pressure’ on us. Our response is to resist and confront this,” he said, referring to the US sanctions.
Trump has used sanctions to step up pressure on Tehran since he pulled the United States out of the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions.
But speaking a day after he fired John Bolton, an architect of the “maximum pressure” strategy, Trump said his administration was dealing with both Iran and North Korea “at a very high level.”
“I think Iran has a tremendous potential. They are incredible people. We are not looking for regime change. We hope that we can make a deal. If we can’t make a deal, that’s fine, too.”
According to a Wednesday Bloomberg report, Trump on Monday discussed the possibility of easing sanctions to nudge Rouhani toward a possible meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month.
Bolton’s firing came after he protested the idea, according to the report.
The White House on Tuesday said Trump was willing to meet Rouhani without preconditions while maintaining the campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran.
The nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been at risk of falling apart since the US unilaterally withdrew from it.
Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began taking steps back from the deal.
It has since increased its enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the deal’s 300-kilogram threshold and boosted its purity above the 3.67-percent limit as well as firing up advanced centrifuges.
Despite the rollback, Rouhani said last week that Tehran and the European powers had been getting closer to an agreement on a way to resolve key issues.
Agencies contributed to this report.