Responding to President Donald Trump’s claim that Iran is ready to negotiate, the country’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters on Tuesday, “We currently see no prospect of negotiations with America.”
“Iran pays no attention to words; What matters to us is a change of approach and behavior,” said Mousavi.
And the Trump administration’s approach to Iran has veered from heated to bizarrely inconsistent.
While on a visit to Japan this weekend, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo offered to mediate talks between Iran and the United States. Asked about this proposal, Trump said Monday, “The prime minister has already spoken to me about that. And I do believe that Iran would like to talk. And if they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also. We’ll see what happens… Nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me.”
The “terrible things” to which the president is referring is really just one thing: War. In recent weeks, the United States has ratcheted up tensions with Iran. There are claims of (so far, publicly undisclosed) intelligence pointing to a heightened Iranian threat against U.S. troops in Iraq, shortly after a U.S. carrier strike group and bombers were deployed to the Persian Gulf.
A number of non-essential U.S. personnel were evacuated from Iraq last week, though confusingly, by Tuesday, the president himself said there were no indications of new threats from Iran. At the same time, his administration is also pushing through weapons sales to partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia — over congressional protest.
Masoud Mostajabi, assistant director of the Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council, told ThinkProgress that Iran is likely playing a “waiting game” realizing that the situation, as it is now, “would be too risky to manage” in the long term.
Mostajabi thinks there will be negotiations, though not “in the near future” — certainly not before the 2020 presidential elections. In the meantime, Iran will likely hold strong.
“It would probably come down to proving to their public and to the international community, particularly the United States, that they can survive the crippling sanctions, they can handle the limited military confrontation that they’re facing, and they are able to inflict damage to the business interests of countries in the region who encourage the U.S. increasing the cost to Iran,” said Mostajabi.
Trump also said the United States is not pursing regime change in Iran.
“It has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership. We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We’re looking for no nuclear weapons,” he said
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted a reminder that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, as doing so is prohibited under an order from the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei:
Ayatollah @khamenei_ir long ago said we're not seeking nuclear weapons—by issuing a fatwa (edict) banning them.#B_Team's #EconomicTerrorism is hurting the Iranian people & causing tension in the region. Actions—not words—will show whether or not that's @realDonaldTrump's intent
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 27, 2019
Also guaranteeing that Iran will not get nuclear weapons in the near future: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog agency that carries out regular inspections on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The inspections are part of an agreement struck by Iran, the United States, France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany in 2015, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for keeping its nuclear program in check. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in May 2018, reimposed sanctions on Iran, and threatened secondary sanctions on those who continued to invest in or trade with Iran. He also declared the country’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) a terrorist group and last week threatened the “official end of Iran” in the event of the fight Iran has repeatedly said it is not seeking.
Trump maintained on Monday that he does not want to go to war with Iran. “I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say, ‘No nuclear weapons.’ We have enough problems in this world right now with nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons for Iran,” said Trump, who has also pulled the United States out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), creating the possibility of another nuclear arms race with Russia.
The president mentioned none of the other issues that he and his administration. have repeatedly used as reasons for leaving the 2015 deal with Iran (knows as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA): Iran’s support of militia groups in Iraq and Yemen, its involvement in Syria’s civil war, and its ballistic missile program.
These issues, said Mostajabi, will likely be part of any future talks, but it’s possible that Trump isn’t bringing them up now in order to encourage Iran to engage in some back-channel talks, but that would “be a tough sell.”
Trump on Monday also echoed some of the same lines he has used about North Korea, highlighting the country’s economic potential, without mentioning the impact of the sanctions he has reimposed on the country roughly 81 million people.
The president also said he knew many Iranians, who he said are “great people,” failing to note that Iranians are subject to his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.