Isn’t that what Hassan Rouhani claimed he wanted? European diplomats have tried to get Iran and the US in the same room ever since Donald Trump canceled the JCPOA or “Iran deal” and adopted his “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign over Iran’s nuclear weapons development. Tehran has refused to negotiate unless the US lifts sanctions, a point Rouhani’s government reiterated earlier this week.
To hear him tell it now, the US called his bluff — and he reneged anyway:
The United States offered to remove all sanctions on Iran in exchange for talks but Tehran has not yet accepted the offer due to the current “toxic atmosphere”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday. …
“It was up for debate what sanctions will be lifted and they (the United States) had said clearly that we will lift all sanctions,” Rouhani said, according to his official website.
Iran was ready for negotiations but not in an atmosphere of sanctions and pressure, the Iranian president said.
“This action wasn’t in a manner that was acceptable, meaning that in the atmosphere of sanctions and the existence of sanctions and the toxic atmosphere of maximum pressure, even if we want to negotiate with the Americans in the 5+1 framework, no one can predict what the end and result of this negotiation will be,” he said.
If the US made that offer and Iran refused it, his friends in Europe are going to be pissed. They’re already unhappy about Iran’s new aggressions in the region, especially regarding shipping through the Straits of Hormuz and their attempts to end-run sanctions on Syria. France and Germany, Iran’s major trading partners outside of the sanctions issues, just blamed Iran for the attack on the Saudi oil refinery, along with the UK’s Boris Johnson.
Trump hotly denied making any such offer, and in fact painted it as an Iranian demand:
Iran wanted me to lift the sanctions imposed on them in order to meet. I said, of course, NO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2019
It’s not entirely out of the realm of believability that Trump might have made such an offer, though. He has made remarks about finding ways to meet with Rouhani to dial down tensions, and reportedly was looking at a $15 billion “bailout” of Iran as a sweetener for talks. Trump hiked sanctions instead, but also sacked hardline national security adviser John Bolton at the same time. Combined with some of his other out-of-the-box foreign policy moves, and perhaps his political woes at home, such an offer would be possible. Perhaps not likely but not impossible either.
And it might have been a smart move to do so, forcing Rouhani to shoot himself in the foot on the international stage. Despite his earlier attempts to make Trump the obstacle to talks, it’s now pretty clear that Ali Khameini has Rouhani on a short leash indeed, and that Rouhani might have just gotten yanked back by it. If that’s in fact what happened, it has provided a moment of clarity about Iran’s intentions and the need to keep up the maximum pressure campaign until Khameini is ready to deal more honestly.