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US Announces New Sanctions, As Hopes For A Meeting With Rouhani Evaporate

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump's speech at the UN General Assembly, Washington tightened the pressure on Iran, sanctioning Chinese companies that have continued to purchase Iranian oil.

As today is the last day of Trump's presence in New York hopes of a meeting with Rouhani have evaporated. The new sanctions were the last nail in the coffin of intense European efforts to broker a Trump-Rouhani meeting.

But prior to the announcement of new sanctions the U.S. administration appeared to try hard to get the Iranians to agree to a meeting.

A Washington Post commentary on Trump's remarks on September 24 quoted Mark Dubowitz as saying that "Trump continues to tap everyone and their mother as an intermediary to persuade Iran to return to talks.” Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies added, “Showing an openness to diplomacy is one thing. Demonstrating desperation for a deal is quite another.”

In the meantime, Pakistan's leader Imran Khan, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Germany, Japan and the UK have also called for a meeting between Trump and Rouhani to end escalating tensions in the Middle East, where Iran has been blamed for an attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities and threatening the security of global oil supplies.

Macron has expressed hope for "some progress" in the coming hours. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that President Trump has asked him to mediate between Tehran and Washington.

Macron had a long meeting with Rouhani after Imran Khan's remarks and talked with the Iranian President once again later Tuesday evening. No details of the talks and mediation efforts have been made public so far. Macron later met with Trump.

U.S. media have quoted Macron as having said that "a good opportunity would be burnt out if Rouhani leaves New York without having met with President Trump."

Notwithstanding the wishes of world leaders, the final say on foreign policy and almost any other matter in Iran rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has strictly forbidden any talks with the United States about anything unless Trump "repents" and "returns to nuclear talks with other P5+1 members," who signed the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, which Trump left in 2018 demanding a new and stronger deal.

Also meeting with the two Presidents was UK's embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said he shares Macron's views about the precious opportunity.

Imran Khan told reporters in New York: "We are working on it and are mediating," adding that "Trump has called for reducing the tensions and possibly a new agreement" with Iran.

Last month, when Macron was working hard to broker a step-gap deal with Iran, Trump had said that no one represents him and that "Iranians know where to call if they want to talk."

In the meantime, Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have said repeatedly that they can talk with U.S. Officials only after U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran are lifted.

Several Iranian commentators on foreign-based satellite TV have also said that Trump's final remarks before ending his discussion on Iran and beginning the part on North Korea was too "pacifist."

So far, the only substantial gain for Trump has been more solidarity by Europeans who have moved closer to the U.S. position, saying a new deal is needed and it should also include Iran's missile program.

Trump who had said Iranian leaders plunder the nation's wealth and waste it on wars in Syria and Yemen, also said at the end of his remarks on Iran that the United States does not have any permanent enemy and that making peace needs courage.

“The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation,” Trump said. “We desire peace, cooperation and mutual gain with all. But I will never fail to defend America’s interests.”

As Trump's reaction to the attack on Saudi Arabia did not include military retaliation, hawkish analysts on both sides of the Atlantic opined that pacifist remarks may embolden Iran to repeat acts such as attacking Saudi oil facilities.

In the meantime, Rouhani said in an interview with Fox News network that Trump "took away the mutual trust" needed for direct talks by leaving the 2015 nuclear deal.