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Rouhani 'Wouldn't Mind A Meeting' That Serves Iran's Interests

Iranian President Hassan Rohani speaks at a conference in Tehran, August 26, 2019
Iranian President Hassan Rohani speaks at a conference in Tehran, August 26, 2019

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has said he "wouldn't mind meeting with an individual" if that meeting could lead to Iran's economic development.

Referring to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's meeting with French officials in Biarritz on Sunday August 25, Rouhani said during a meeting on Monday "Every means must be used in order to protect the country's national interests."

Rouhani’s reference to “an individual” could be taken to mean the U.S. President Donald Trump.

He added in his remarks that were also posted on the administration's Twitter: "If I know that the country's problems will be solved and the country will be developed if I meet an individual, I wouldn't mind going to the meeting."

Although these remarks could contain an allusion to negotiations with the United States, Rouhani did not elaborate further, but speaking of "pressures by the enemy" he reiterated that "the only solution is developing the country."

Referring to Zarif's visit to Biarritz on the previous day, Rouhani said: "We should proceed to where there is even a mere a 10 to 20 percent chance for success. We should not miss any opportunity."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has previously forbidden negotiations with America. However, Rouhani said on Monday while pointing out the impact of the 2015 nuclear deal on Iran's oil exports: "While we insist [on negotiating], some people have blocked their ears and say what are negotiations good for." This is a clear jab at Iran’s hardliners who insist negotiations with the West will be fruitless.

Multiple reports in recent weeks have spoken of Iran asking for a partial reprieve from U.S. oil sanctions, as its has lost nearly 90 percent of its pre-sanction exports.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that Iran wishes to hold talks but does not know how to start. He has also repeatedly dangled the prospect of Iran economically benefiting from a comprehensive agreement.

While Trump said on Monday that Iran could be rich if Iranian leaders want, Rouhani said: "Our nation wants its dignity and independence, but at the same time, they want a decrease in pressures and improvement in their welfare."

While nearly all observers believe that Zarif's visit to Biarritz for talks with French officials alongside the G-7 summit could not have taken place without Khamenei's green light, it is still not clear whether Rouhani's remarks signal Khamenei's approval of a meeting between Rouhani and Trump in New York next month on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly meeting.

What casts doubt on the possibility of Khamenei's green light for talks is the behavior of Iranian hardline media and the way they reacted to Zarif's visit on Sunday.

Iran's state TV, which operates under close supervision by Khamenei's office and echoes his ideas, Sunday night mentioned Zarif's visit very briefly toward the end of a news bulletin full of reports on insignificant events.

Also, the Kayhan newspaper which is run under the aegis of Khamenei's office and its editor is appointed by Khamenei as his representative, harshly criticized Zarif and the meeting in Biarritz.

The Kayhan characterized Zarif's visit as "untimely" and on its front page called negotiations with Europe "useless".

Kayhan wrote "the only outcome of Zarif's visit will be an increase in the enemy's pressure on Iran." Meanwhile, Kayhan's main commentary suggested that "Iran's posture… should be one of defense and attack rather than compromising while the dead body of the existing [nuclear] agreement is trampled under the feet of United States and Europe."

An optimistic view is that perhaps Iran's hardline media are kept in the dark about a possible green light Khamenei might have given Rouhani and Zarif. It is a known tactic of Khamenei to allow action, but wait to see for the result before deciding whether he should defend or criticize the measure he has authorized.