Iranian Officials Stress They Won’t Negotiate with Trump

Week of August 26th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani Walks Back Comments Suggesting He Would Meet Trump

After Foreign Minister Zarif and French President Macron met at the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, President Rouhani signalled a willingness to meet President Trump.  Rouhani said after the Zarif-Macron meeting: “I believe that every tool should be used to achieve the country’s interests. If I know that I go a meeting and see someone and in the end the country can get prosperous and the people’s problems solved, I won’t hesitate. This is our main national interest.”

Macron said after meeting Zarif that he was optimistic that Trump and Rouhani would meet. He said “a roadmap has sort of been set” for diplomacy. He disclosed that “in the next few weeks,” he hopes a meeting will take place between the two leaders that he predicts “is going to lead to bringing an end to escalation and reaching a suitable solution to this [standoff].” Macron also said that Rouhani had told him he would be willing to meeting Trump.

However, a day later Rouhani walked back his seeming remarks that he would be open to meeting Trump. Rouhani emphasized he was not seeking a photo-op with Trump: “We are not after taking pictures for someone to take a picture with Hassan Rouhani. This is not acceptable. Even it being photoshopped is not acceptable.”

Rouhani then reiterated a longstanding position that U.S. sanctions must first be removed before any meeting: “To record a real picture is not possible unless the Americans give up on all their oppressive sanctions and respect the rights of the Iranian people. At that time, there will be a new situation and it would be possible to think and take an action that is based on our national interests.”

Zarif’s trip to France and meeting with Macron spurred negative reactions from conservative factions in Iran. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, said to Rouhani: “The clearest result of your negotiations with America was the JCPOA. No one, and I emphasize no one, can have any doubt about how disastrous that was.”

 Kayhan also said Zarif’s trip to France was “improper.” It said the French proposal was aimed at “extending the nuclear deal to the areas of missiles and the region” and was in practice, “a repeat of America’s 12 crude conditions [for negotiations].”

Tasnim, an outlet close to the Revolutionary Guards, said that Zarif’s trip to France was “not necessary.” Tasnim called for Iran to take a “third step” to reduce compliance with the JCPOA in order to make the other side’s “proposals more realistic and appealing.”

The reformist outlet Fararu highlighted that after the G7 developments, the U.S. imposed new sanctions, Trump officials revealed the U.S. had launched a cyberattack, and John Bolton ruled out removing any sanctions before reaching a deal.

Fararu analyzed thusly: “The possibility exists that elements in the Trump administration are trying to exacerbate distrust and doubt between the U.S. and Iran. These elements are worried about a potential meeting between Rouhani and Trump.”

Fararu also said that no Rouhani-Trump meeting would take place until Iran had increased its bargaining position. It stated: “A meeting with Trump or negotiations with America in general have requirements. Experience shows that Iran enters negotiations with America when it has enough leverage to pressure the other side.”

Fararu mentioned that this pressure may include Iran returning to enriching uranium at the 20-percent level.

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Deputy FM says Iran Only Seeks Negotiations with Europe

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stressed that Iran was only pursuing negotiation with Europe, not America. He stated in an interview after the G7 developments: “Our negotiations are with Europe for our demands to be met. We don’t have any negotiations with America. No country will accept negotiations while under maximum pressure because if it does, it is negotiations for surrender.”

Araghchi said that Europe must either buy Iranian oil directly or give Iran credit for future purchases. He stated: “We have told the Europeans either to buy our oil or if they cannot to give credit for the equivalent purchases of Iranian oil and in this way, pre-purchase Iranian oil.”

Araghchi said that if Europe makes this commitment on Iranian oil purchases, Iran will remain in the JCPOA. If not, Araghchi said, Iran will in 10 days (on September 7th) takes it third step to reduce compliance with the deal.

Araghchi also said of Iran’s conditions for negotiations with the U.S.: “America must remove the sanctions and return to the JCPOA. In this way, within the framework of the P5+1, negotiations can occur. No negotiations or meeting will occur if sanctions are not removed.”

Separately, President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi said an Iranian delegation was traveling to France next week. According to Vaezi, the team will be comprised of Iranian economic experts. 

Vaezi stated that progress has been made in negotiations with Europe: “Since last week the progress in negotiations [with Europe] has not been bad. It has been good. A delegation will travel to France next week and engage in detailed discussions on the issues. When that delegation returns to Iran, then we can better comment on implementing the third step [of Iran reducing its compliance with the JCPOA].”

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Senior Cleric Calls for Major Reforms

Hashem Hashemzadeh Herisi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, has criticized conditions in Iran and called for a change in government policies. The Assembly of Experts is an elected body constitutionally mandated with choosing and supervising the Supreme Leader.

Herisi said Iran’s leaders had to change “everything.” He said that with the continuation of the status quo “the livelihood and fate of the people is in danger.” He added: “We have to change not only our words but everything about us.”

Herisi called for top-down change in Iran: “Solving these problems through bottom-up change is very costly. It would destroy Islam, the revolution, the clergy, and Iran. But if we engage in top-down reform and start with changing our words, actions, and political management style, the people will support us.”

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Two Senior Clerics Meet after Public Feud

Two senior clerics, Sadegh Larijani and Mohammad Yazdi, have met publicly after recently getting in a vitriolic public feud. Both are conservative figures and former heads of Iran’s judiciary. Larijani is the current head of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council and Yazdi is a member of the Guardian Council.

In pictures released by Abbas Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council’s spokesman, Larijani and Yazdi are seen talking to each other and smiling. Earlier, Yazdi had publicly criticized Larijani. Larijani responded with a letter to Yazdi that was also released publicly 

Larijani had said in his letter to Yazdi: “In the Guardian Council, the imprecise, unjustified, and even irrelevant remarks by you is something that is clear to the members.”

In his initial remarks, Yazdi suggested Larijani had illicit sources of wealth: “This person says that if you take this action, I’ll go to Najaf [in Iraq]. So go! You think that with you leaving Qom will fall apart? You being in Qom has barely had a consequence. Much less you leaving to Najaf … You created a mansion under the guise of a seminary school [in Qom]. Is this from your father’s inheritance? Where did you get this [money]?”

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports in the Iranian press against Larijani amid a self-proclaimed crackdown against corruption by current judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi succeeded Larijani as judiciary head in March.

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Rouhani Says Economic Conditions Have Stabilized

President Rouhani said that Iran’s economic conditions are better than last year when the U.S. left the nuclear deal. He stated that “all domestic indicators” indicate that the country’s economic situation had improved and is “more stable.”

President Rouhani also said that last year a European leader told him that Trump believed that if Europe joined U.S. sanctions, Iran’s government would collapse in months. Rouhani said in this regard: “This person who claimed this will himself leave and his political party will leave power. But the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain for hundreds of years more fortified than today.”

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IRGC Official Sheds New Light on U.S. Drone Downing

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has shed new light on Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone in June. Hajizadeh said Iran didn’t believe a war would break out: “They launched a major psychological operation to indicate that they would start a war against us. Even the intelligence agencies of our friends said that we would be attacked. But we knew that nothing would occur.

Hajizadeh contended the downing of the drone has removed the risk of war: “This [psychological operation] was a hoax to bring us to negotiating table. The shadow of war was removed with the downing of the U.S. drone.”

Hajizadeh said Iran was ready to target U.S. bases across the region: “We were confident that if the first U.S. missile or bomb hit our land, we would have hit their bases in the region and ships in the Gulf of Oman that were already in our targets.”

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Russia & China Offer to Sell Iran Military Aircraft, Official Says

Abdolkarim Banitarafi, the head of the Iranian Armed Forces’ Aviation Industries, attended the MAKS weapons exhibition in Moscow.  Also attending the show were Chinese representatives and Turkish President Reccip Tayeb Erdogan, who expressed interest in buying Russian fighter jets.

Banitarafi said that Russia and China had made proposals to sell fighter aircraft to Iran. If the JCPOA survives, UN sanctions on Iran purchasing armaments will expire next year. Banitarafi said that until these sanctions are removed, Iran will only be engaged in “negotiations and talk” about buying the military aircraft.

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About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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