Iran sticks to its guns: No room for talks with Trump

Iran's president has once again ruled out dialog with his US counterpart amid mixed signals from the White House. Yet third-party mediation remains an option both sides seemingly favor.

al-monitor Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Sept. 24, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Carlo Allegri.

May 21, 2019

"Although I personally support dialog and diplomacy, I flatly reject it under the current circumstances," said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a clear message that the Islamic Republic's stance toward the idea of talks with the administration of US President Donald Trump remained unchanged.

Rouhani said "five world leaders" had approached him to help defuse Tehran-Washington tensions during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly in September 2018. "But today's conditions are by no means fit for negotiations," he added, noting that "steadfastness and resistance" are Iran's options, echoing a similar view earlier expressed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani made the remarks shortly before Trump's latest tweet on Iran in which he denied media reports that his administration was going the extra mile to bring the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table: "Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready."

Picking up on a response from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to an earlier threat by Trump, Iranian media outlets wrote in volumes to fire back at the US president, trying to give him a history lesson on how ancient Persia stood the test of time. On the front page of Reformist daily Hamdeli, a cartoon of a screaming Trump struck attention. His rhetoric, according to the paper, was but an "empty threat." Printing a picture of Trump in the form of a melting iceberg, hard-line Javan wrote about the melting down of Trump's "warmongering."

The debate over how a possible US war on the Islamic Republic could play out has been largely characterized by Iranian patriotic and religious sentiments in recent weeks. "Iranians are the most immortal nation of the world. What was overthrown in the country 40 years ago was a 6,000-year-old despotic monarchy backed by the United States," wrote Hesamodin Ashna, one of Rouhani's top advisers.

According to prominent pundit and political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam, any US invasion of the country will strikingly differ from the American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan under the Taliban, Zibakalam told Arman daily, Iranians' support for their government will pose a key challenge to the US military.

"Listen carefully, Mr. Trump! We won’t negotiate, nor are we asking for war. But the battle is a battle of resolves … and victory belongs to the ones who have chosen God," tweeted an Iranian.

In a step meant to draw the world’s attention to Trump's apparent threats, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations wrote to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warning about a deterioration of the security situation in the Persian Gulf. Without naming the US government, Majid Takh-Ravanchi referred to "circles" outside the region who are trying to create an "unnecessary crisis" through "fabricated claims, disinformation and fake news" while relying on "support from their Middle East allies."

But not all windows were shut. Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi sat down with Zarif in Tehran in what was interpreted as a mediation drive led by a country that has traditionally shuttled between Iran and the United States to try to end the two arch foes' decades-long hostilities. Details of the meeting in Tehran remain undisclosed to the media, but Oman is credited with having laid the foundation of talks between the two sides in 2012, which three years later culminated in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between Iran and six world powers — including the United States.

That very deal, however, has been in tatters since the Trump administration pulled out of it in May 2018. Now, in the latest development on that front, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced May 20 that it had officially started boosting its capacity to enrich uranium by four times the previous level. The move was one of the steps the Islamic Republic decided to take earlier this month in response to the US departure from the JCPOA and the European signatories to the deal’s inability to provide the promised economic dividends.

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