On Monday 30 July, United States President Donald Trump announced that he would like to meet the Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani at “any time” with “no preconditions.” At a brief news conference at the White House, Trump said he would meet with “anybody” since he “believes in meeting.” There is no doubt that all Trump wants to talk about with his Iranian counterpart is the re-negotiation of the Iran deal. In May, the US left the treaty that aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear power, in return for the lifting of various international sanctions. In addition to renouncing the deal, Trump also urged other countries to stop buying oil from Iran, which is the nation’s most crucial export. To retaliate, Iranian leaders warned that they could ban international oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. Since then, the relationship between the US and Iran has continued deteriorating, and the exchange of rhetoric (both on Twitter and on more formal occasions) has intensified in recent days. In fact, just before Trump’s announcement of his willingness to meet, Iran had stated that it is “impossible” for its leaders to go back to the negotiation table. In light of such tension and disharmony, what Trump said on Monday might signal a sharp change in the situation and potentially pave the way for peace. Indeed, if President Trump and President Rouhani do meet, then this would be the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries since 1979.
After Trump’s announcement, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced his support for such a meeting, on the condition that Iran shows willingness to change its behavior. In response to this, Hamid Aboutalebi, an adviser to President Rouhani, tweeted to Trump that “returning to the nuclear deal” and “respecting the Iranian nation’s rights” would lead to a peaceful solution. However, despite Trump’s conciliatory approach and his intention to “make a real deal,” he did not elaborate on what exactly he wants to achieve. In other words, terms and conditions are still pretty vague at this stage, and it’s all the more unclear whether Iran would agree to any new conditions.
The Iran nuclear agreement was reached in 2015 during the Obama administration by Iran, the US, and 5 other major powers. It reduced sanctions on Iran and, in exchange, the latter agreed to curb its nuclear activities. Later, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran complied with the deal and said Iran is sticking to its commitments. Tensions between the US, Iran, and Iran’s regional foes were thus eased. That said, Washington remains suspicious of Iran’s activity in the Middle East. Incumbent US President Trump is particularly against the deal, having publicly denounced it as “ridiculous.” Indeed, Trump used evidence of Iran’s military deployment in Syria to show that Iran is still performing “destabilizing activities” regionally. Meanwhile, two of the US’s allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, also accused Iran of supporting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, which Iran has vehemently denied. After the US left the Iran deal in May, Iran and the US have continued to trade hostile warnings. For example, Trump recently tweeted in capital letters that Iran would “suffer consequences the like of which few throughout history have ever suffered before” if it keeps threatening America.
At this volatile and alarming juncture, what Trump offered on Monday could be the potential beginning of peaceful change. The ongoing exchange of unfriendly rhetoric between the countries will lead both to nowhere. Instead, coming to the negotiation table together could be a first step to peacefully solve the issue. What Trump did with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June could set a good example for Iran, since the Trump-Kim meeting marks a significant diplomatic success that could potentially solve the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula. Before the meeting, both parties were also full of insults and threats, but now Kim has made gestures to stick to the agreement made during his meeting with Trump. Similarly, there is no evidence that such a meeting can’t succeed for the US and Iran. On the other hand, if the US wants more concessions from Iran, Trump should also prepare to take a step back. For example, when Iran cut back its defense capabilities through the nuclear deal, its neighbor Saudi Arabia increased its defense spending through arms sales from the US. In such circumstances, it is not irrational for Iran to feel unsafe and take corresponding actions.
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