President Donald Trump, who has pulled the United States out of a multinational nuclear deal with Iran and has repeatedly attacked the government in Tehran, has said he is willing to meet the Iranian leadership with no preconditions.
Trump made the comments on Monday during a joint White House news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
“I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet. I don’t know that they’re ready yet. I ended the Iran deal. It was a ridiculous deal. I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet and I’m ready to meet any time that they want to,” he said in Washington, DC, after being asked whether he would be willing to meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
Trump said he had “no preconditions” for a meeting with the Iranians, adding: “If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
His remarks come amid heightened rhetoric in the wake of the US’ withdrawal from the landmark nuclear deal with world powers in May and its reimposition of sanctions against Iran.
Washington has since threatened countries with financial consequences if they did not halt all imports of Iranian oil from November 4.
An adviser to the Iranian president said on Tuesday that any talks with the US had to start with reducing hostility and a return to the nuclear deal.
“Respect for the great nation of Iran, reduction in hostilities, US returning to the nuclear deal… That will open the rocky path of the moment,” wrote Hamid Aboutalebi on Twitter.
Earlier this month, Rouhani hinted that Iran may block regional oil exports if its own sales are halted following the US’ withdrawal from the deal, which was signed in 2015 by the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.
“Do not play with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it,” Rouhani said in a speech in Tehran, reiterating that the US cannot prevent it from exporting its crude oil to the international market.
“Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars,” he added.
In response, Trump said sent out a late-night tweet directed at Rouhani and written entirely in capital letters: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Trump’s post on Twitter resembled ones he issued last year to warn North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme before he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in the first US-North Korean summit, where both sides declared a new friendship and made vague pledges of nuclear disarmament.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from the White House, said Trump’s comments at the news conference came as a “surprise”.
“Some people would say this is classic Donald Trump – he has been under pressure over the last couple of days … and suddenly he is giving the American media this bone to pursue, which is a possible meeting with Rouhani,” said Fisher, citing Trump’s verbal criticism of Kim before meeting him.
“There are voices in this White House, senior voices, who have been highly critical of the Iranian government, who have called for its removal … but if they are told by Donald Trump, ‘I want this to happen’, then there is a real possibility that this could happen.”
Some of these voices include US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, who have used aggressive rhetoric towards Iran.
Trump has previously suggested that Iranian leaders would request a new deal, but Iran has rejected talks on several occasions.
Iran stated its interest in keeping the nuclear deal alive, but only if the remaining powers could guarantee that it would not face economic isolation under Washington’s sanctions.
In May, Pompeo set out 12 tough demands for inclusion in a new nuclear treaty with Iran.
“Those came across more as conditions of surrender [to the Iranians] than the beginning of new talks,” said Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran.
Commenting on Trump’s statement, Basravi said his “no preconditions” remark was “a departure” from Pompeo’s speech.
“Iranian leaders here, one and all, do not believe in the fact that they can trust Trump or anyone from the Trump administration,” he said.
“It’s not so much a trust gap as it is a gorge.”