On Monday, President Donald Trump offered to meet with his Iranian counterpart with “no preconditions.”
“There’s nothing wrong with meeting,” Trump said.
But to Iran, there apparently is. “With current America and these policies, there will definitely not be the possibility of a dialogue and engagement, and the United States has shown that it is totally unreliable,” Bahram Qassemi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Monday.
Objectively, the U.S. has been unreliable regarding Iran. And not just to that country, but to allies the United Kingdom, France and Germany, as well as to Russia and China, all of which were party to a multinational pact painstakingly negotiated to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program. Trump pulled out of that deal despite repeatedly verifying that Iran was in technical compliance.
There’s been inconsistency regarding Iran within the administration, too: Trump says there would be no preconditions to a meeting, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously listed 12.
And most notably, Trump’s surprise summit offer came just a week after he wrote an angry, all-caps tweet: “To Iranian President Rouhani: 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!”
Trump was seemingly responding to a threat from Rouhani that Iran could disrupt oil shipments that pass through the Strait of Hormuz if new U.S. sanctions curb or cut off Iranian oil sales. The bellicosity may increase since Iran reportedly plans a major military exercise in the coming days.
Rouhani is in fact cautious, but less toward the U.S. and more in deference to Iranian hard-liners who are ascendant after his more moderate approach toward the U.S. backfired. “The mood in Iran is dreadful; people are despondent and that has to do with a great many problems, of which the relationship with the United States is an important one, but not by any means the only one,” Patrick Clawson, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told an editorial writer.
Those combustible conditions could weaken the theocracy’s hold in Iran. But any replacement is just as likely to be a group like the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps than a more moderate movement.
Both sides could benefit from talks. Assuming Trump doesn’t repeat his poor performances during his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the U.S. could cool the red-hot rhetoric and more constructively work toward a deal Trump could abide by. That would also benefit Iran, which desperately needs to end its political and especially economic isolation that is spiraling the country into crisis.
The world should hope that cooler heads ultimately prevail.