Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says he did not try to "evade a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House" when he was offered the opportunity in July during a visit to the United States.
The New Yorker magazine on August 2 quoted diplomatic sources as having said that Senator Rand Paul had invited Zarif to visit the White House and meet with President Trump in late July, However, Zarif said in an August 5 news conference that he was told he would be sanctioned if he rejected the invitation.
Zarif said in an interview published by the administration-owned "Iran" newspaper on Sunday September 1: "I would have certainly gone to the meeting if officials ordered me to do so, although this could have exerted a lot of pressure on me in Iran."
Zarif reminded: "I obeyed orders before and came under presser subsequently, nevertheless, I was not going to evade the meeting, but it was against the country's policies," adding that "However, I did not deem the meeting useful as they had also threatened while offering negotiation."
He further explained: "When I went to New York, U.S. officials came to me and said 'Mr. Turmp has invited you to the White House to talk with him,' but at the same time, they threatened that my name was going to be added to the list of sanctioned individuals, although they did not link the two matters to each other."
"I thought if I go and hold talks, the least I would gain was that I will not be sanctioned. But Iranian officials do not approve of talking with U.S. officials", Zarif told Iran newspaper.
According to the New Yorker, Zarif at the time told Senator Rand Paul that he will make his decision after consultation with Tehran but eventually, Iranian officials did not allow Zarif to take part in the meeting.
Critics in Air-conditioned Rooms
In another part of the interview Zarif criticized Iran's state TV, other hardliner media and commentators for their attacks on the Foreign Ministry, calling them "critics in air-conditioned rooms."
He said there are groups in Iran who wrap their opposition to diplomacy in the disguise of "resistance is better than talks". However, he reminded that the Iranian oil tanker that was detained in Gibraltar has been released with a mixture of diplomacy and resistance.
During recent months, Iranian hardliner media including the state TV and the Kayhan newspaper, both affiliated with Supreme Leader Khamenei's office, as well as IRGC's Javan newspaper have been attacking Zarif and the Foreign Ministry on almost daily basis for following a policy of "negotiations" rather than "resistance," while demonizing the former and glorifying the latter.
Zarif particularly criticized the Iranian state TV saying that the TV series Gando, and many interviews aired on the state TV on foreign policy were "distorting the truth," adding that the state TV was mudslinging against the handling of Iran's foreign policy rather than criticizing it.
The TV series Gando depicted a Zarif look alike as a compromising deputy foreign minister. Meanwhile, the state TV has been broadcasting many one-sided interviews with people and political activists who criticize the Foreign Ministry and Zarif and oppose the idea of negotiations with the United States.
Zarif even complained to Khamenei himself about the TV series. Khamenei simply replied that he was not happy about any insult to Zarif, however, the state TV's behavior remained unchanged.
Meanwhile referring to the U.S. sanction against himself, Zarif told Iran newspaper, "the fact that overtly vocal critics of America have not been sanctioned by U.S. shows that America has no problem with them."
He called on the "critics in airconditioned rooms" to look at prominent resistance figures such as Lebanese Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah and Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani and see their relationship with the Foreign Minister. Zarif added that he has very friendly relations with Qassem Soleimani and meets him every week.
He attributed his absence in a late February meeting between Khamenei and Syrian President Bashar Assad, in which Soleimani was present, to lack of coordination that harms the whole country.
In a controversial measure, Zarif at the time resigned his post for becoming side-lined by other officials, but his resignation was not accepted.