US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made headlines June 2 when he said that the United States is ready to negotiate with Iran with “no preconditions.” Pompeo added that the Donald Trump administration simply wants Iran to act like a “normal nation.”
The United States unilaterally reneged on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the European Union in May 2015. The State Department then issued 12 demands to Iran concerning its foreign policy and its missile and nuclear programs before lifting sanctions.
Given that the United States reimposed sanctions after it exited the JCPOA, Iranian leaders have not taken the bait from Pompeo’s recent statements. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was the first Iranian official to respond.
“Mr. Pompeo’s emphasis on continuing the campaign of maximum pressure shows the continuation of improper behavior and needs to be corrected,” Mousavi said. He added that as far as Iran is concerned, “Word play and expressing hidden agendas with new words does not fit the criteria for action.”
President Hassan Rouhani also responded, stating, “When they put aside the oppressive sanctions, when they stand by their commitments, when they themselves return to the negotiation table which they quit, the path for them is not closed, it is open.” Rouhani further said, “[Iran] will not be dominated by any power” and cited “mutual respect within the framework of international laws” as being necessary for talks.
The day before Pompeo’s comments, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked, “Some people think we have a problem with Trump. It is not so.” Rather, he said, the main obstacle to negotiations is the United States not sticking to its “commitments,” meaning the JCPOA.
Iranian military leaders have long been opposed to talking with the United States. Ahmad Vahidi, president of the Supreme National Defense University and former defense minister, said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency, “The history of the Islamic Republic has proven that even on occasions when permission was given to negotiate with America, it did not yield results, and every time [the United States] reneged on its commitments.” As for negotiating over Iran’s missiles — one of the original 12 US demands — Vahidi said, “No country is willing to negotiate on its defensive capabilities, and Iran is naturally no exception.”
Pompeo’s comments elicited a good deal of commentary through Persian-language social media. Abdullah Ganji, director of the newspaper Javan, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, tweeted that Pompeo had dropped the 12 demands after Iran took strong countermeasures against US actions — in particular after reducing its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA — and after the United States failed in its effort to force Iranian oil exports to fall to zero. “Mr. President, this path will yield results,” Ganji advised Rouhani.
Pompeo was not, however, finished sending messages to Iran. On June 3, he called on Iran to pass two controversial bills concerning the Financial Action Task Force. Proponents of the legislation say their passage will help Iran access foreign financial markets, but opponents warn that it will give foreign countries access to Iran’s financial data. Pompeo’s statement will certainly be used by the bills' opponents to attack those who have been pushing for their approval.