Trump Calls for Iran Talks as Allies Announce Rare Tehran Visits
By Michael Lipin June 06, 2019
U.S. President Donald Trump has called for U.S.-Iran talks for a second day to resolve mutual tensions — a prospect two U.S. allies hope to promote as they send senior envoys to Tehran for the first time in years.
"I understand they want to talk, and we want to talk. That's fine. We'll talk," Trump said Thursday, referring to Iran as he sat for a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Caen, western France. The two leaders earlier had attended a ceremony in the region to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. "But the one thing that [Iran] can't have is … nuclear weapons. And I think the president of France would agree with that very strongly," Trump added.
In a Wednesday interview with British channel ITV on the final day of Trump's state visit to Britain, interviewer Piers Morgan asked the U.S. president if he was prepared to talk to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.
"Yeah, of course. I would much rather talk," Trump replied. In the same interview, Trump reiterated his readiness to use military action in response to perceived threats from Iran. "There's always a chance. Do I want to? No. I'd rather not. But there's always a chance," Trump said.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran, longtime rivals who broke off relations 40 years ago, have risen significantly in the past year.
Trump withdrew the U.S. from a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers plus the European Union in May 2018, saying it did not do enough to stop Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons or other perceived malign activities in the region and beyond. He also began reimposing U.S. sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 deal and introduced even tougher sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran into negotiating a new deal to end all of its perceived harmful behavior.
Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons and has vowed to resist the U.S. maximum pressure campaign.
The tensions escalated further when the Trump administration rapidly deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf last month, in response to what it perceived as an imminent threat of an attack on American interests by Iran or its proxies. Iranian leaders have vowed to retaliate for any U.S. military action.
Two U.S. allies, Germany and Japan, said Thursday that they plan to take the rare step of sending senior officials to Iran next week to try to peacefully resolve the tensions and encourage Iran to continue abiding by the 2015 deal, which both nations support. The deal requires Iran to suspend nuclear activities that could be diverted to a weapons program for a number of years, in return for relief from international sanctions.
A German foreign ministry spokesperson said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will meet his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Tehran on Monday. It will be the first visit of a German minister to Iran in 2½ years.
In another development, AFP said it learned from a Japanese government official that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will travel to Iran next week in the first such visit by a Japanese leader in more than four decades. Japanese media said Abe most likely will meet Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei, in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday, dismissed other recent comments by Trump suggesting an openness to talks, saying the U.S. leader would not "deceive" Iran with a "cunning political ploy." He also derided Trump by saying, "When someone like this leads a country, it shows that this country is declining in terms of moral and political power."
But in an unusual comment later in the speech, Khamenei also called Trump an "honorable U.S. president," in reference to what he said was Trump's seemingly "generous" recent comments about Iran. He also did not explicitly rule out talks with the U.S., as he appears to have done in other recent remarks.
"What we're seeing right now is the stage is being set for negotiations," Tzvi Kahn, a senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA Persian in a Thursday interview.
"Iran knows that the current situation is unsustainable as sanctions are tearing apart the country," Kahn said. "So, we're beginning to see cracks in the regime's facade, such as Shinzo Abe's visit to Tehran next week and a dialing down of the rhetoric from Khamenei."
Iran has seen its currency weaken significantly against the dollar, and its unemployment and inflation rates have soared since the U.S. reinstated sanctions.
In his Thursday remarks alongside Macron, Trump acknowledged Iran's suffering and said he would like to see it end. "They are doing very poorly as a nation. They are failing as a nation. And I don't want them to fail as a nation. We can turn that around very quickly," he said.
Macron welcomed those comments as he highlighted four goals that he said France and the U.S. share: preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons; reducing its ballistic missile activity; containing its involvement in regional conflicts; and pursuing peace in the Middle East.
"I think the [message] pronounced by President Trump is that [negotiations] are very important. We need to open a new negotiation in order to build and to get these four objectives," Macron said.
This article originated in VOA's Persian service. Katherine Ahn contributed from Washington.
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