Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who was sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department on July 30, was invited to the White House during his trip in mid-July to the U.S., The New Yorker reported.
Quoting both U.S. and Iranian sources the report says that the invitation was extended to Zarif by Senator Rand Paul, when the two met during the visit.
Paul coordinated the meeting closely with administration officials and discussed it with President Donald Trump. The invitation was part of the Senators efforts to play a role in reducing tensions with Iran, with opening a direct channel with the top Iranian diplomat.
Paul met Zarif on July 15 at the residence of Iran’s UN ambassador in New York and heard proposals on how to resolve disagreements on Iran’s nuclear program.
One idea was to enact a law by Iran’s parliament to declare nuclear weapons Haraam or forbidden. Another idea was for Iran to accept more stringent nuclear inspections.
The report says Senator Paul offered Zarif a chance to present his ideas in person to Trump at the White House.
After adopting a hawkish position on Iran for more than two years, Trump began repeatedly offering unconditional negotiations as tension flared up in the Persian Gulf in May and June.
Iran has insisted that the U.S. must first return to the nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump withdrew from in May 2018.
Zarif told Senator Paul, according to The New Yorker’s sources, that he could not make the decision alone to meet Trump and needed to clear it with Tehran. He voiced concern, that much like North Korea, the meeting would be little more than a photo op.
The initiative did not lead anywhere as Tehran refused to approve a meeting - “at this time”.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has consistently opposed a rapprochement with the United States, although by all indications back in 2012 he approved negotiations when Iran was hit by international sanctions for its nuclear program.
Most Iranian analysts believe Khamenei will again show flexibility, as the country’s already weak economy is devastated by sanctions Washington has reimposed. But Iran also senses that president Trump wants a deal and his aim is not to attack Iran or attempt a possible regime change. Therefore, Tehran is holding out to see what kind of a deal it can fetch ultimately.
But sanctioning Zarif has added a new twist to the diplomatic brinksmanship between Tehran and Washington. A U.S. diplomat was quoted by news agencies as saying that the U.S. wants to talk with someone who has real authority; a remark that can allude to Zarif’s refusal to accept Trump’s invitation to meet.
Apparently, Senator Paul did not agree with the decision to sanction Zarif. He tweeted, “If you sanction diplomats you’ll have less diplomacy”.