- The Washington Times
Friday, September 27, 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday that President Trump had sent repeated behind-the-scenes messages to him vowing to ease sanctions on Tehran if Mr. Rouhani agreed to a one-on-one meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week.

Mr. Trump quickly shot down Mr. Rouhani’s claim, asserting via Twitter that it was, in fact, the Iranians who demanded sanctions relief as a condition for such a meeting.

“I said, of course, NO!” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday, hours after Mr. Rouhani had alternatively claimed to have “rejected” a meeting because the atmosphere at the annual gathering of world leaders was “negative.”

In comments upon arriving back to Tehran from New York, Mr. Rouhani said the conditions for a meeting were spoiled by Saudi, U.S. and European allegations that Iran was to blame for recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

While Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for the Sept. 14 attacks, the leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Germany signed a joint statement Monday to declare their agreement with the U.S. and Saudi assertions that Iran itself was responsible.

With the British, Germans and French having spent much of the past year criticizing the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, many saw Monday’s joint statement as an indication of a Europeans shift toward closer alignment with Mr. Trump’s growing push to isolate Iran on the global stage.

The Trump administration says the goal of U.S. sanctions and an embargo on Iranian oil imposed since Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal last is to pressure Tehran into a new negotiation that addresses not only Iran’s nuclear activities but also its ballistic missile program and backing of militant proxies around the Middle East.

Despite the ongoing allegations against Iran, Mr. Rouhani claimed on Friday that U.S. officials had “sent messages to almost all European and [non]-European leaders that they wanted one-to-one negotiations,” but that Iran refused.

The Iranian president said Iran would only talk with Mr. Trump in a group setting with leaders from other nations who had signed the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, including the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia.

He went on to claim German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had gone so far as to assure Iranian officials that “the U.S. would lift all sanctions” on Tehran if Mr. Rouhani agreed to a one-on-one with Mr. Trump.

The Washington Times could not immediately verify the validity of Mr. Rouhani’s comments, a translated summary of which was posted on the English-language version of the Iranian president’s official website.

Mr. Trump’s tweet in response on Friday fit with a speech the U.S. president gave to the General Assembly on Tuesday in which he suggested he had no intention of lifting sanctions on Iran.

“As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted,” Mr. Trump said in the speech.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made headlines Wednesday, meanwhile, by warning on the sidelines of the U.N. that Iran’s president would project false narratives amid soaring tensions surrounding the recent attack on Saudi Arabia.

“Rouhani is desperate to deceive because the world is awakening to the truth,” Mr. Pompeo said at an event hosted by United Against Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan advocacy group.

“More and more nations are beginning to stand up to Iran’s thuggish behavior and disengaging [from Iran] economically,” the secretary of state said.

In his comments upon returning to Mehrabad Airport in Tehran on Friday, Mr. Rouhani disputed the U.S., Saudi and European charges that Tehran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabia.

“The Iranian delegation made it clear enough to the world,” he said. “Even some European leaders had issued a statement, stipulating that Iran had a role in the attack, I asked them to provide evidence, which they did not have any.”

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