Iranian officials had a swift response Tuesday to Donald Trump’s spontaneous offer to meet with his Iranian counterpart: Rejoin the nuclear deal first.
The comment from Hamid Aboutalebi, a political advisor to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, came after Trump declared that he was prepared to meet the Iranian leadership “anytime they want.”
“Good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world,” Trump told a news conference at the White House Monday alongside Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte. “No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
The olive branch represented an abrupt shift in tone from Trump, who just last week warned Rouhani with all-caps tweet: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN.” The post prompted a top Iranian general to goad Trump Thursday that Iran was “ready” for war.
Trump’s sudden about-face Monday mirrored his whiplash diplomatic style in dealing with another international adversary, North Korea.
Since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the landmark international nuclear deal in May, saying it was too favorable to Tehran, his administration has ratcheted up its rhetoric — vowing to crush its economy with sanctions and threatening consequences against Iran — while demanding Tehran change its policies in the region.
Next month, the U.S. will reimpose the first tranche of sanctions — targeting cars, gold and other metals — that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, a move that has already hit Iran’s economy. A second tranche, targeting the energy sector and transactions with Iran's Central Bank, is due to come into effect in November.
In light of the sanctions, Iranian officials said their government isn’t ready for a sit-down. Aboutalebi was quoted by Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency as saying any meeting would first require a return to the nuclear accord, as well as a reduction in hostilities and “respect for the great nation of Iran.”
“Those who believe in dialogue as a method of resolving disputes in civilized societies should be committed to the means,” he said.
Iranian lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, also said a return to the deal would be necessary before any talks could happen.
“There can be no negotiations with the Americans raising the issue of talks from the position of power,” he said, according to the Iranian parliament’s website.
The remaining members of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, remain committed to the accord, as does Iran.
Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also poured cold water on his boss’s offer of talks without preconditions, telling CNBC in the wake of Trump’s remarks that certain measures had to be taken by Iran first.
“If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behaviour, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him,” he said.
The reaction from U.S. lawmakers to Trump’s latest sudden pivot was mixed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she thought it was “a good idea,” while fellow Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez compared it to Trump’s freewheeling approach to dealings with North Korea.
“No preconditions, no preparation. And what do we have? We have Kim Jong Un elevated from an international pariah to someone who seems like a legitimate statesman.”
Cover image: Donald Trump listens during a news conference with Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, July 30, 2018. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)