According to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, US President Donald Trump requested a bilateral meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York during this year's United Nations General Assembly meeting in September. Iran rebuffed the request.
Mehdi Fazaeli, a conservative analyst and former managing director at Fars News Agency, broke the story with an Oct. 29 article on the alleged request. According to Fazaeli, the request came one day after Trump's speech to the assembly, in which he referenced Iran a dozen times, calling its government an “oppressive regime” and a dictatorship. In the same speech, Trump also called the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Fazaeli described Trump’s speech as “insulting” toward Iran and contextualized it as being in line with the US objective of selling arms to regional allies.
Fazaeli wrote that French President Emmanuel Macron had offered to facilitate the meeting, but Rouhani had turned him down as well. Ghassemi, who confirmed Trump’s request when asked about it by Iranian media Oct. 29, did not, however, confirm Macron’s reported involvement.
The White House today denied that Trump had made such a request.
Had a face-to-face encounter taken place, it would have been the highest-level meeting between Iran and the United States since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 2013, US President Barack Obama and Rouhani spoke by phone during the annual General Assembly meeting. It was also reported that Obama shook hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif behind closed doors at a General Assembly gathering. Zarif and former Secretary of State John Kerry broke a long-standing taboo by holding bilateral talks to hammer out the nuclear deal. Those meetings played a significant role in the breakthroughs that led to agreement on the landmark deal.
Fazaeli, in line with his conservative positions, did not view a possible US-Iran meeting at the presidential level in a positive light. “Efforts by the American government to negotiate with Iran are not new, and during the last four decades both Republicans and Democrats have made efforts,” Fazaeli wrote. “The Americans are certain that such a negotiation has benefits for them, but for Iran, other than damage, it has no other achievements.”
Fazaeli further asserted, “The Americans will offer no concessions, as has been experienced in the [Iran] nuclear deal, [with] Libya, North Korea, the Soviet Union and others.” He praised Rouhani for refusing to shake Trump’s “velvet-covered hands” and for acting within the “strategic framework” of the Islamic Republic. He claimed that the “slightest flexibility” by Rouhani in regard to such a meeting would have made the “American-European plot successful” and caused “irredeemable damage to national pride.”
Rouhani spoke at a parliamentary session the day Fazaeli's story appeared, but he did not mention an approach by Trump. He did, however, reference the possibility of new talks or additional negotiations with the United States over the nuclear deal, which Trump refused to recertify and wants to revisit. “A government that breaks the commitments of the previous administration is not trustworthy,” Rouhani said. “And it’s ridiculous to offer an invitation for a renegotiation.”