WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani are likely to meet in New York later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the highly regarded Ha’aretz columnist, Amos Harel, has reported.
“A meeting between the US and Iranian presidents is just about a done deal,” Harel wrote on Sunday. “That is the growing conclusion in Israel’s security establishment,” following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, in London on Thursday.
Talking to Esper was Netanyahu’s primary purpose in traveling to London, Harel stated, while Netanyahu’s meeting with Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, was merely a “courtesy call.”
While he was in London, Esper addressed the Royal United Services Institute. Asked about Iran, he responded, “It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and, hopefully, it’ll play out that way.”
Esper later explained that his answer was based on “some of the comments made by the Iranians in the wake of the G7” summit in France, which was held from August 24 to 26.
The summit host, French President Emmanuel Macron, has been mediating with Tehran, and he even invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to the summit, amid much speculation that Trump might meet with Zarif, although that did not happen.
Netanyahu, however, was so concerned about such a meeting that he urgently tried to phone Trump and warn him against it, the Times of Israel reported. Netanyahu was told that Trump was too busy in meetings to take his call, so he spoke instead with US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
At a joint press conference with Trump on the last day of the summit, Macron said, “There will have to be a meeting between the American and the Iranian presidents. And I would wish that in coming weeks such a meeting take place.”
“This morning, President Rouhani showed himself to be open to this meeting happening,” the French president added.
Asked about Macron’s suggestion “sounded realistic” that he might meet Rouhani “within weeks,” Trump replied, “It does.”
Asked yesterday, on Monday, about a possible meeting with Rouhani, Trump affirmed his continued openness. “It could happen. It could happen. No problem with me,” he replied. “Iran should straighten out, because, frankly, they are in a very bad position right now” and “they could straighten it out very easily.”
Trump has made clear that he does not seek “regime change” in Iran, but, rather, to change Tehran’s behavior—above all, to ensure that Iran abandons its nuclear program.
Despite the US and French hints of a possible high-level breakthrough, Iranian officials, for their part, have mostly taken a tough position, affirming that the US must agree to lift sanctions before any such meeting is possible.
However, on August 26, the day after Zarif visited the G-7 summit, where he met Macron (although not Trump), Rouhani stated publicly that he "wouldn't mind meeting with an individual,” if it could promote Iran's economic development.
Already the next day, though, Rouhani began to retreat from that statement, affirming that any such meeting must be preceded by the lifting of sanctions.
More US measures against Iran and more Iranian steps in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have since followed.
On September 4, the US announced an entirely new set of sanctions, targeting the illicit oil shipping network of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The US even announced that it would provide large rewards—up to $15 million—for information that disrupted that network.
Washington was, in effect, offering the captains and crews of those ships, and even dock workers, a lot of money, if they provided information that proved actionable.
For its part, Tehran stated on September 7 that it had begun to install advanced centrifuges to accelerate its uranium enrichment program. That announcement marked the third time since early July that Iran has announced it is rolling back compliance with a provision of the JCPOA.
In making the announcement, Behrouz Kamalvandi, Spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, warned, “Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent,” adding that Iran has the capability “to increase its enrichment much more beyond that.”
Iran had enriched uranium to 20 percent, before the conclusion of the JCPOA. To move up from 20 percent enriched uranium to weapons-grade material is, according to expert opinion, not a difficult step.
Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst and now an instructor at The Institute of World Politics, advised Kurdistan 24, “It is difficult to imagine” any high-level meeting between US and Iranian officials, given the history of animosity between the two and the issues that still divide them.
However, “it’s not impossible,” Davis continued. “Israel’s concerns are noteworthy, and, perhaps, an indication that something could be happening.”
Editing by Nadia Riva