Mahmoud Vaezi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, told reporters after a cabinet meeting on July 18 that U.S. President Donald Trump had tried eight times to set up a meeting with Mr. Rouhani on the latter’s last visit to the UN General Assembly in September 2016.
Some reformist newspapers described Vaezi’s comments as a positive sign.
In an article entitled “Iran and America: Who will make the first contact?” the pro-government newspaper Iran said Vaezi’s revelation followed Trump’s recent remarks at a news conference during which he said: “I hope that after the sanctions kick in — and they are brutal — they’re going to come back and negotiate a real deal. I know they’re having many problems and their economy is collapsing. However, at a certain point they’re going to call me and they’re going to say ‘let’s make a deal.’ They’re feeling much pain right now.
The paper also highlighted comments by Hesamodin Ashna — an adviser to President Rouhani and the head of the Center for Strategic Studies — who recently said: “This is an opportunity to improve relations with the West. The Helsinki news conference [between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin] showed that the Europeans are uniting against Trump. We are witnessing the creation of a Western coalition which excludes Trump. Where do we fit in all of this? It is time to engage in talks with the U.S. and the West without Trump.”
In an interview with the reformist newspaper Arman, Ghasem Mohebali, an expert in international relations, said: “Trump is seeking bilateral talks with Iran without European involvement. He thinks that is the only way to achieve any meaningful results, citing his recent negotiations with North Korea. Therefore, the Europeans can either mediate or facilitate talks.”
Seyyed Ali Khorram, the former Iranian ambassador to Vienna, expressed a somewhat different view. He said: “We can’t take any credit for Trump’s repeated attempts to contact President Rouhani. The move clarifies Washington’s position on the issue. We could have patted ourselves on the back had we seized every opportunity that came our way. It is too late now. Our opponent is calling the shots. The U.S. is pushing for a new round of talks only after it has imposed a new set of illegal sanctions on our country which have crippled the economy. Trump’s administration is banking on the notion that an economic meltdown would lead to widespread unrest in Iran.”
Turning to Tehran-Moscow relations, Mr. Khorram noted: “Russia uses Iran to further its political aims in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq. It also benefits from Iranian oil, industry, and investment. Meanwhile, Moscow presents itself to the West as the caretaker of the region. We must decide our own fate and not allow others to dictate our future.”
Meanwhile, there have been unconfirmed reports of secret talks between the U.S. and Iran, which have been denied by both Tehran and Washington.
A similar strategy was used before the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and in the recent nuclear talks with North Korea.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi dismissed rumors that Russian President Vladimir Putin had conveyed a message to Trump on behalf of Iran during their last meeting in Helsinki.
In a meeting with President Rouhani and his cabinet on July 14, Mr. Khamenei stressed the importance of “developing diplomatic ties with foreign countries” and urged the government to “implement workable diplomacy and to improve ties with the East and the West except for the U.S. and some other countries.”
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]