Trump Offers Direct Talks with Iran

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

August 5, 2018

In a recent press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an off-handed invitation to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to meet without any preconditions. Coming in the aftermath of the much-criticized Singapore and Helsinki summits, Mr. Trump’s invitation has raised alarm among U.S. allies in the region, but has failed to receive a positive response by an Iran still angered by the White House’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal.

But while President Trump may be willing to meet “without preconditions,” a return to the JCPOA may be a prerequisite for any future talks between the United States and Iran. As the Tehran Times reports, “The Majlis deputy speaker said the situation is not right for negotiations ‘because it will be accompanied by disgrace and humiliation’. ‘If Trump hadn’t quit the JCPOA and not re-imposed sanctions, I think it would have been OK to enter talks with America,’ Ali Motahari said on Tuesday…. ‘It seems that Trump is in love with setting up meetings just to meet, with not much paying attention to the outcomes and his inconsistent remarks’, Kamal Kharrazi noted, Mehr reported. ‘It seems natural that we turn down his offer with regard to bitter experiences we learned from previous negotiations with America and its repetitive breaches of obligations,’ added Karrazi who was Iran’s foreign minister from 1997 to 2005 under the Khatami administration.”

A similar sentiment is shared by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who, according to a PressTV report, says “the U.S. should blame itself for ending talks with Iran when it left the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.)… The remarks were made one day after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that [he] was willing to meet with Iranians without preconditions…. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi also responded to Trump’s offer by noting that it was in contradiction [to] his actions of imposing sanctions and pressuring other countries into avoiding business with Tehran.”

While some have expressed concerns that rhetoric may lead to war between Iran and the United States, The National’s Hussein Ibish believes this unlikely, suggesting the United States may opt for a long-term economic and financial “war”: “Having left the nuclear deal, Washington has instituted a campaign of maximal pressure against Tehran, primarily in the form of a massive financial war that is having a decidedly negative impact on Iran’s already shaky economy…. Yet there’s no reason to believe either side really wants an all-out conflict and, apart from reckless words, both are being fairly restrained in deeds. Mr. Trump knows full well that he was not elected to start additional, avoidable, wars. He would only do that if he believed it was absolutely necessary for his political survival.”

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Benjamin Weinthal throws his weight behind increased sanctions: “Two punishing rounds of re-imposed economic sanctions will hit Iran in early August and November because of Tehran’s hyper-destabilizing foreign policy…. Trump’s policy is undoubtedly winning the economic war – and the call-for-democracy transformation battle – against Iran’s clerical rulers…. Iran’s economy will continue to crater into a bottomless pit of misery if the US maintains its campaign of maximum economic pressure. Economic warfare without military intervention has a solid chance to contribute to the demise of Iran’s regime – or, at a minimum, the reversal of Iranian warmongering in the region.”

While Tehran remains defiant, its neighbors believe economic sanctions are beginning to take a toll on Iran’s economy and its political stability. Writing for Arab News, Majid Rafizadeh argues that despite appearances, “Tehran is significantly concerned”: “Iran’s rial is at a historic low as major sanctions against the regime for its nuclear program are looming…. On several occasions, the Trump administration offered Tehran the chance to renegotiate the terms. The Iranian regime declined and boasted that the U.S. does not possess the power to conduct any action against the nuclear deal…. Although on the surface, Iran’s leaders are brushing aside the reimposition of sanctions as trivial, Tehran is significantly concerned…. Although the Iranian regime may be framing the sanctions as only affecting the U.S., it is extremely critical to point out that the sanctions are applied to non-U.S. individuals and entities as well.”

But Trump’s offer for direct, unconditional talks between the United States and Iran has caught some U.S. allies in the region by surprise. According to the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren, Israel’s silence on Mr. Trump’s recent offer is indicative of discomfort: “Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Donald Trump for an all-caps tweet in which the U.S. president threatened his Iranian counterpart with ‘consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before’ if he ever dared to threaten America again…. This week, as Trump appeared to dramatically change his tune, offering Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani a meeting without any preconditions, Netanyahu said nothing…. While Israel has unequivocally supported the administration’s every move on Iran, the radio silence may indicate Israeli unease or at least confusion over what a possible summit between Rouhani and the famously mercurial Trump could mean.”

Finally, the message of a recent Saudi Gazette editorial is indicative of further discomfort among other U.S. allies in the region: “His possible talks with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, however, carry a far higher risk. Both Kim and Putin call the shots in their respective countries. Rouhani does not. He is merely the marginally acceptable face of the deeply unacceptable regime of the ayatollahs…. Trump would be wiser simply to continue with the re-imposition of the Iranian sanctions and let them bite home, even though Moscow and Beijing will now seek to frustrate them. If he does meet Rouhani, he should send him back to his masters with the clear message that nothing short of a profound and convincing change in their policies is going to deflect him from the new economic clampdown.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top