Donald Trump seemed to jettison threats of impending war with Iran on Monday, saying he was willing to meet the country’s leaders without precondition, a dramatic about-face by the enigmatic U.S. president.
Barely a week after warning Iran it would suffer untold “consequences,” Trump said he would meet the country’s leader Hassan Rouhani “any time” and without preconditions. “I would meet with Iran if they wanted to meet,” Trump said at a joint White House press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, “I don’t know if they are ready yet.”
“No preconditions,” he added. “They want to meet, I’ll meet. Any time they want. Good for the country. Good for them. Good for us. And good for the world.”
White House and administration officials rushed to place caveats on the president’s seemingly open invitation. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered his own interpretation of the “no preconditions” offer, setting out three steps Iran must take before talks take place.
“The president wants to meet with folks to solve problems if the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to making fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their maligned behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation,” he said. “Then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him.”
National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said Trump was open to dialogue and even ending four decades of bitter animosity between the two countries, but only if Iran fundamentally changes. “The United States is prepared to take actions to end sanctions, reestablish full diplomatic and commercial relations, permit Iran to have advanced technology and support the reintegration of the Iranian economy into the international economic system,” Marquis said. “However, this relief is only possible if there are tangible, demonstrated and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies. Until then, the sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course.”
Trump’s offer comes after a provocative warning a week ago from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said the U.S. should not “play with the lion’s tail” and warned that any conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars.”
Trump responded with an all-caps tirade on Twitter: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”
The U.S. is regularly suspected of backing the idea of regime change, but analysts read the tweets as simply a way for Trump to pivot after a week of dire headlines over his much-maligned summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
In May, Trump—who has made Iran his public enemy number one—announced the U.S. withdrawal from what he called a “defective” multinational nuclear deal with Tehran, and moved to reinstate punishing sanctions. The 2015 agreement came in response to fears that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb. Washington’s European allies maintain their support for the deal and have vowed to stay in it, though their businesses fear U.S. penalties.
“I ended the Iran deal. It was a ridiculous deal,” Trump said. “If we could work something out that’s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.”
Trump said he and Conte had agreed that the “brutal regime in Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Never.”
“We encourage all nations to pressure Iran to end the full range of its malign activities,” the U.S. leader added.
Trump has repeatedly shown a willingness to cast traditional diplomatic protocol aside and meet with leaders shunned by other administrations, including North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.
“I believe in meeting,” Trump said. “Speaking to other people, especially when you are talking about potentials of war and death, and famine and lots of other things, you meet.”
On July 23, Pompeo said Washington was not afraid to sanction top-ranking leaders of the “nightmare” Iranian regime. Pompeo also said that Washington wants all countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil “as close to zero as possible” by Nov. 4, or face American sanctions. “There’s more to come,” Pompeo said of U.S. financial penalties.