Iran's Rouhani open for Trump meeting if sanctions lifted

The Iranian president has signaled readiness for talks with his US counterpart if the latter removes economic sanctions he reimposed on the Islamic Republic.

al-monitor Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, July 4, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Lisi Niesner.

Dec 4, 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has once again expressed his preparedness for talks on an internationally negotiated solution involving the United States to salvage the key achievement of his administration: the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"As soon as the United States agrees to put aside its wrong, illegal, unjust and terrorist-style sanctions, we will have no problem to immediately sit down with the leaders of the P5+1 groups of countries," Rouhani told a conference in Tehran Dec. 4.

Those countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia, which — following marathon talks — inked the nuclear accord with Iran back in 2015. Since May 2018, however, the deal has been on the cusp of collapse after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of it.

Rouhani blamed the US departure on Iran's major regional foes, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia. "The Zionist regime, Saudi Arabia and hard-liners in the United States duped Trump [into walking away from the deal], telling him that reimposing extraordinary sanctions will bring about the Islamic Republic's collapse."

One year after the US withdrawal, Iran began scaling back multiple commitments it had pledged under the accord. Tehran said the decision was meant to activate the economic relief that European signatories had failed to offer. In his speech, however, Rouhani declared the commitment reduction was in no breach of the deal; rather, it was an effort to keep it alive.

To salvage the accord, Iran has not shied away from reaching out to multiple parties. On Dec. 3, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, one of the Iranian architects of the deal, was in Tokyo to deliver Rouhani's "written message" to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The content of the message was not immediately known, but Japan's Kyodo News Agency quoted "informed sources" as saying it did convey Rouhani's willingness for a trip to Japan "at an early date."

Back in June, Abe paid a historic visit to Tehran after his offer to mediate between Iran and the United States received a nod from Trump. Yet his push appeared to have yielded no tangible outcome for a de-escalation in US-Iran tensions. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the final say over Iran's state matters, was more than straightforward and adamant in his refusal to reply to a Trump message Abe was carrying.

But months after Abe's Tehran visit, Iran has sent an envoy to Japan — a sign perhaps that it is still expecting mediation to work. Araghchi reaffirmed to the Japanese premier Tehran's position that the commitments it has suspended are all revocable once the deal's benefits start to flow out. Araghchi is scheduled to meet with the European signatories for tough talks in Vienna later this week to try to redirect the trajectory by drawing concrete action from their side toward rescuing a deal, which he earlier likened to a patient in an "intensive care unit."

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