Iran wary of Trump offer for talks, but not ruling them out
TEHRAN — Iran reacted skeptically Tuesday to President Trump saying that he’s willing to negotiate with his Iranian counterpart ‘‘anytime,’’ but top officials did not reject a sit-down out of hand.
Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a senior cleric and member of the influential Expediency Council, said Trump’s suggestion Monday that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani should not be categorically rejected.
‘‘It should be discussed in the Supreme National Security Council,’’ said Nategh Nouri, who is also a former aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nategh Nouri said ‘‘we have to contemplate’’ the gesture, but also cautioned ‘‘we should not rejoice over this offer and not get excited.’’
‘‘Trump may take advantage of this over-excitement,’’ he said, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. ‘‘It could be a test for us.’’
Trump pulled the United States out of a deal with several major powers and Iran earlier this year that was meant to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. He’s also said, however, that as renewed sanctions kick in, he expected Iran would call and offer to return to the negotiating table, and that ‘‘we’re ready to make a real deal.’’ On Monday he said he could meet with the Iranians with ‘‘no preconditions,’’ adding that ‘‘if they want to meet, I’ll meet anytime they want.’’
Former President Barack Obama held a brief phone call with Rouhani in 2013, as the talks that led up to the nuclear deal were getting underway. It was the first time the presidents of the two countries had spoken since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the storming of the US Embassy, which led to the severing of diplomatic ties.
In his first public comments after the remarks, Rouhani himself avoided mentioning Trump’s comments, instead stressing the need for the other nations involved in the nuclear deal to forge ahead with their pledges of trying to salvage it.
‘‘Today we are at a very critical point in history regarding the nuclear deal, and Europe’s transparent measures to compensate for the United States’ unlawful withdrawal from it are very important for the Iranian nation,’’ Rouhani said after talks with new British Ambassador Rob Macaire.
Britain, along with China, Germany, France, Russia, and the European Union, are negotiating with Iran on preserving the deal.
In Washington, a senior State Department official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had no plans to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif if they both participate at an Asian security forum in Singapore later this week. The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss Pompeo’s schedule, said there were ‘‘no plans for any engagement with Iran’’ at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum.
Pompeo will be in Singapore for the forum and related events on Friday and Saturday.
There had been speculation such a meeting might be in the works. On Monday, Pompeo met with Oman’s foreign minister in Washington ahead of his trip to Singapore. Oman, which has good ties with both Washington and Tehran, has served as a facilitator of previous talks between the United States and Iran, notably during the Obama administration.
The Iranian leadership has previously ruled out one-on-one talks with Trump, following his decision to pull the United States out of the deal under which Iran was given relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Rouhani’s political adviser Hamid Aboutalebi as saying that for talks to happen, the United States needs to rejoin the deal.