President Hassan Rouhani of Iran never met President Trump in New York this week. It was a near miss, according to European officials, who were desperately trying to prevent a conflict by putting the 2 enemies together in a room and wishing for the finest.
But in the hours prior to he took off on Thursday for Tehran, Mr. Rouhani, sounding pensive, did not dismiss the idea that, sometime and someplace, a meeting with an American president was completely possible– under conditions set by the Iranians.
” If he gets rid of these prerequisites,” Mr. Rouhani informed press reporters at an hourlong news conference, referring to the progressively painful sanctions the United States has actually reimposed on Iran, “then settlements with the U.S. are a possibility.”
Then he went even more, agreeing that the 2015 Iran nuclear offer renounced by Mr. Trump had its flaws– though he assesses its defects differently than Mr. Trump does– and including that he was open to extending its terms. “We can surpass the J.C.P.O.A.,” he stated, describing the official name of the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Strategy of Action, without specifying what he had in mind.
It was the culmination of an odd week at the annual United Nations General Assembly, one that had none of the fireworks numerous had actually predicted. Mr. Trump, perhaps afraid that the Sept. 14 attack on Saudi oil centers had positioned the two nations on a course to conflict, perhaps sidetracked by the impeachment movement gathering steam in Washington, sounded strangely conciliatory toward Iran.
He did not call the Saudi attack an “act of war,” as his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, had done. He did not try to organize a military action by allies. He kept stating the Iranians desired “an offer,” without discussing what sort of deal he imagined. In his speech to the General Assembly, Mr. Trump noted how the United States had befriended previous enemies, a recommendation to Germany, Japan and Vietnam.
For his part, Mr. Rouhani, given a number of opportunities at both public and personal occasions to talk about the prospect that Mr. Trump was in deep political problem in the house, chose to hold his tongue. Iran, he said with a smile, would deal with whatever president America sent to him. (Among Mr. Rouhani’s aides, nevertheless, sought out a press reporter at a reception to ask whether Mr. Trump would make it through the year in workplace.)
All week as Iranian authorities and diplomats satisfied their counterparts at the United Nations, the talk was fixated the details of how– not if– a meeting between Iran and the United States could be brokered. Yet both Mr. Trump and Mr. Rouhani appeared, individually, to conclude that conference in New York was just too risky.
But both faced temptations. Mr. Trump, according to one Republican who talked to him, saw a meeting as a chance to pacify pressure to retaliate for the attack on Saudi Arabia– and possibly to commandeer headlines dominated by his possible impeachment.
And Mr. Rouhani discovered that European leaders, led by President Emmanuel Macron of France, were twisting his arm to satisfy Mr. Trump. In truth, an impromptu lobbying campaign was captured in a video, published on Thursday, from a diplomatic reception.
Mr. Rouhani, in his black clerical bathrobe and white turban, stood in the corridors of the United Nations on the sidelines of the General Assembly. He was in a semicircle with Mr. Macron and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain. Electronic cameras were clicking all around, as a translator passed on the European leaders’ remarks to Mr. Rouhani.
” If you leave the country without conference with Mr. Trump, honestly this is a lost opportunity,” stated Mr. Macron. “President Trump will not go to Tehran.”
Mr. Rouhani blurt a hearty laugh.
Then Mr. Johnson picked up where Mr. Macron left off. Growing animated, raising both hands, he said: “You require to be on the side of the swimming pool and jump at the exact same time.”
” I concur,” stated Mr. Macron.
Mr. Rouhani appeared entertained, leaning in to listen with a huge grin, then laughing even harder.
The two Europeans were not alone: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Imran Khan of Pakistan also lobbied to bring the leaders of the United States and Iran face to deal with– something that didn’t take place even after the 2015 agreement had been negotiated.
For Iran, nevertheless, the mere act of a handshake with an American president is stuffed with risk. Since its creation, the Islamic Republic has made turning down the United States a subject of street performance, from the chants of “Death to America” at Friday prayers to the branding of the country as the “Terrific Satan.”
So it came as a surprise that Mr. Rouhani thought of fulfilling Mr. Trump as the logical endpoint of settlements– assuming the conditions are right. In an evident recommendation to Mr. Trump’s conferences with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, Mr. Rouhani stated in his General Assembly address: “For us, an image chance is not the first step however the last step.”
The problem is that America’s initial steps and Iran’s stay extremely out of sync. Mr. Rouhani duplicated on Thursday that he would not work out until the United States raises the squashing sanctions that have actually diminished Iran’s oil earnings, plunged it into recession and designated its reserve bank and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as terrorist organizations.
Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump have actually stated they would satisfy Iran without preconditions– at least until Mr. Trump declared, two weeks back, such statements were “phony news” made up by the media. In reality, there is a struggle within the administration about whether to engage the Iranians– a struggle that resulted in the termination just a few weeks ago of John R. Bolton, the hard-line national security consultant. He was replaced with a diplomat who has no recognized views on how to handle Iran.
While the 2 presidents remained in New york city, international inspectors went to Iran’s main nuclear website, at Natanz, and confirmed that the nation was now setting up advanced centrifuges, which enhance uranium, years ahead of the schedule allowed in the 2015 arrangement. It belongs to an effort by Iran to stop complying bit by bit, to match Mr. Trump’s desertion of the entire accord.
” They decreased their commitments, so we decreased our dedications,” stated Mr. Rouhani. “More pressure only ranges us even more from negotiations.”
However Mr. Rouhani told press reporters that Iran’s decision to phase out its commitments under the nuclear accord was reversible.
His message was provided gently, with no harangues. And that might trigger him difficulty back house. The images of Mr. Rouhani sharing laughs with leaders of France and Britain have actually exasperated the hard-line faction in Iran: In conservative newspapers and on some social networks posts, critics berated him for appearing so chummy with Mr. Macron and Mr. Johnson, simply a day after those leaders issued a declaration, along with Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, blaming Iran for the attacks on Saudi Arabia.
” What is the factor for Rouhani’s unfortunate laughter? He just desires to say he has a relationship with the world,” tweeted one conservative, Aliakbar Raefipour.
Kayhan, the mouth piece paper for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also composed on Thursday that Mr. Rouhani’s speech was strong but that his friendly disposition with Western leaders was out of line.
However Mr. Rouhani appeared undeterred. While he did not satisfy Mr. Trump, he held what appeared to be his very first conversation with Mrs. Merkel, who had actually declined to meet her Iranian equivalent throughout previous United Nations events.
And she utilized the moment to decline the idea of raising sanctions initially.
” I would invite it if it came to talks in between the United States and Iran, however it will not work that all the sanctions are very first taken off the table and then there are talks,” Ms. Merkel stated after the meeting on Tuesday. “I believe that is not realistic.”
David E. Sanger is a national security correspondent. In a 36- year reporting profession for The Times, he has been on three teams that have won Pulitzer Prizes, most just recently in 2017 for worldwide reporting. His latest book is “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age.” @ SangerNYT – Facebook