Donald Trump said Monday he’d be willing to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani under the “correct” circumstances to discuss their standoff over the 2015 nuclear deal the U.S. president abandoned.
French President Emmanuel Macron said during a joint news conference with Trump in Biarritz, France, that he hoped to arrange a meeting between the two leaders within weeks. The American president was more cautious about a move that would signal a dramatic shift in almost a half century of broken diplomatic ties between Tehran and Washington.
Speaking at the conclusion of the Group of Seven meeting on Monday, Trump said he would meet with Rouhani “if the circumstances were correct or were right.”
“I don’t know the gentleman,” Trump said. “I think he’s going to want to meet.”
Trump also said he’d support extending what he called a “letter of credit” to Iran, secured by oil, to help the country meet short-term financial obligations, another Macron proposal. “It would be from numerous countries,” Trump said, and “it would be paid back immediately.”
The talk of allowing even limited crude sales would be a sharp shift in what has been an ever tightening series of U.S. economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, including restrictions on the country’s oil sales. The comments followed televised remarks by Rouhani, who reiterated previous statements that he’s willing to talk.
“We must make use of any means for the interest of our country,” Rouhani said. “If I know that going to a meeting, meeting someone will lead to the progress of my country and resolve the problems of the people, I will not hold back. The principle is the national interest of our people.”
Though any actual summit is likely a long ways off, the back-and-forth between two leaders of countries which have considered the other an enemy for decades signaled there may be an opportunity to strike a deal.
Iran was a central part of the discussions at the G-7, whose European leaders are trying to hold together the nuclear deal with Tehran that Trump exited last year. Iran also generated the summit’s biggest surprise, when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif flew to Biarritz on Sunday with most world leaders having little or no advanced notice of the trip.
Zarif’s arrival and his day of meetings in the mayor’s office in Biarritz prompted speculation Trump might leave the summit altogether. But the American president didn’t let Zarif’s arrival upend his plans, even though his administration has ramped up sanctions on Iran and threatened retaliation if the Islamic Republic continues to violate the 2015 agreement. Trump said Macron had told him in advance about the Zarif visit.
Underscoring the message that France can act as a mediator on improvements to the 2015 nuclear accord, Macron accurately noted that French negotiators “hesitated most to sign this agreement” because it had “drawbacks and compromises.”