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Hassan Rouhani Won’t Talk to Donald Trump

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has declined to meet Donald Trump until the US president lifts sanctions on Tehran.

At the G7 summit French president Emmanuel Macron suggested that he could broker a meeting between the Iranian and US leaders.

The initiative to end the crisis in the Gulf was revealed by Mr Macron at the end of the G7 summit at a joint press conference with Mr Trump. “My conviction is that an agreement can be reached,” Mr Macron said after speaking to Mr Rouhani by telephone and hearing from him that he would be open to meeting the US president.

Mr Trump said: “If the circumstances were correct I would certainly agree” to meet Mr Rouhani. However, if the situation in the Gulf deteriorated “they are going to be met with really very violent force”, he added. “We are not looking for leadership change . . . we’re looking for no nuclear weapons, no ballistic missiles and a longer period of time [than the current agreement expiring in 2026].”

However, Iranian president played down the prospect of negotiations. Mr Rouhani said there would be no “positive development” until the US lifted its sanctions on the Islamic republic.

“Iran is seeking a resolution to the problems through reasonable means rather than taking photos,” Mr Rouhani said. “If [Mr Trump] just wants to take photo with Hassan Rouhani that would not be possible.”

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif added that any meeting between Mr Rouhani and Mr Trump was “unimaginable”.

In July, Mr Trump invited Mr Zarif to meet him in the White House during a visit to the US, but Iran turned down the offer.

Mr Trump has on occasions expressed interest in meeting Iran’s leaders, yet each time Tehran repeated that it would not negotiate while sanctions remained in force.

Washington and Tehran have been locked in a stand-off since Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers and imposed crippling sanctions.

Iran has responded by increasing its nuclear activity and exceeding the limits on key elements of the accord.

France has been trying to save the deal and de-escalate tensions in the Gulf. At the G7 summit, Mr Macron, who had spoken by phone with Mr Rouhani, suggested that he could organise a meeting between the Iranian and US leaders within weeks.

The White House has said it would continue to intensify pressure on Iran in an attempt to persuade Tehran to come to the negotiating table. But Iran has also been adamant that it will not negotiate under the threat of economic sanctions.

Tehran has repeatedly insisted it can “resist” the US pressure. But the sanctions have pushed Iran into a deep recession and caused its oil exports to plummet from about 2.8 million barrels per day in mid 2018 to less than 500,000 barrels per day.

Any talks with Mr Trump would have to be approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who has the final say on all state matters. Mr Khamenei has ruled out negotiations with the US, describing any such talks as “double poison”.

Published: August 27, 2019