(CNSNews.com) – President Trump’s comment Monday that he was ready to meet with Iranian leaders came just hours after the regime’s foreign ministry rejected the idea of negotiations with the U.S., saying Washington had proven to be “untrustworthy” and dismissing reports speculating that mediation efforts may be underway.
Speaking alongside visiting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Trump said he would meet with President Hassan Rouhani whenever the Iranians wanted to do so.
“I don’t know that they’re ready yet. They’re having a hard time right now,” he said, alluding to the protests and economic difficulties confronting Tehran. Ahead of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, Iran’s rial has plummeted to a new low against the U.S. dollar.
Trump said he was willing to meet with “no preconditions.” He also linked any prospective meeting to the need to reach an agreement with Iran in place of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, from which he withdrew last May.
“If we could work something out that’s meaningful – not the waste of paper that the other deal was – I would certainly be willing to meet.”
The remarks follow an exchange of threats between Trump and Iranian regime figures, including Rouhani and the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force chief, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani,
Amid the tensions, the foreign minister of Oman has been visiting Washington. Yusuf bin Alawi met with Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday.
The visit prompted conjecture that a bid to mediate may be underway; Oman has traditionally served as an intermediary between Iran and other Arab Gulf states, and also provided a back channel for Iran-U.S. talks during the Obama administration.
(While campaiging for the White House, Barack Obama also expressed a willingness to hold talks with Iran without preconditions. Shortly after his inauguration he undertook to engage with Iranian leaders who were willing to “unclench their fist” and it later emerged that secret talks began in Oman in the summer of 2012. Multilateral negotiations led to the conclusion of the JCPOA in 2015.)
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, on Monday dismissed as “media speculation” any suggestion that Iran and the U.S. could hold talks, or that the Omani foreign minister’s visit to the U.S. was linked to the issue.
After the “illegal” withdrawal from the JCPOA and the bringing to bear of economic pressures against Iran, “there are no conditions for such a discussion at all,” state media quoted Qassemi as telling a briefing.
“The U.S. has proved to be untrustworthy and unreliable.”
‘Negotiations with the U.S. are useless’
Earlier this month Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi was quoted by the Mehr state news agency as saying that when the Iranian president visited New York last September for the U.N. General Assembly session opening, the Trump administration had asked the Iranian delegation “eight times” for a meeting, but was rebuffed.
During that high-level General Assembly week, Trump in his first speech at the U.N. described the Iranian regime as “murderous,” “reckless” and “oppressive,” and accused it of destabilizing behavior in the region and human rights violations at home. He distanced the “good people of Iran” from the criticism.
The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in May, the launch of a campaign aimed at stepping up pressure on the regime, expressions of support for Iranian protestors and criticism of corruption among political and religious leaders, and now the imminent restoration of sanctions, have ratcheted up tensions between the two governments.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said recently it was a mistake to think Iran could resolve its problems through negotiations with or a relationship with the U.S.
“The Americans seek a restoration of their status and condition in Iran prior to the [1979 Islamic] Revolution and will not settle for anything less,” he told a gathering of Iranian ambassadors on July 21.
Khamenei said he has been emphasizing for a long time the view that “you cannot count on the words or even signatures of the Americans. Therefore, negotiations with the U.S. are useless.”