Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has claimed that former President Donald Trump tried eight times to arrange a meeting between the two leaders but was rebuffed, even as he publicly threatened war against and ruin for Tehran.
Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal in May 2018, deriding the deal as “laughable” and promising to negotiate a new, tougher accord. But for all his threats against Tehran, the regime refused to sit down with his administration.
Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy choked Iranian exports and badly undermined its economy. Iranian leaders have celebrated what they claim is their victory over the hawkish Trump administration, ahead of an expected detente and JCPOA revival under his successor, President Joe Biden.
Trump might be out of office, but Iranian leaders are still lamenting the impact of his sanctions and warning the new administration to break from that strategy. Tehran is also taking the chance to mock the former president and undermine the position of the Iran hawks who retain influence over America’s foreign policy and military establishment.
Rouhani told a cabinet session Wednesday that Trump left the JCPOA under pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, but still tried to open diplomatic channels with Tehran months after his withdrawal.
“We went to the United Nations at the end of September 2018, and on the first day of the General Assembly, after Trump’s speech, he texted me eight times and wanted to meet with me,” Rouhani said, according to the Mehr News Agency. “I rejected,” he added.
Newsweek has contacted Trump’s press team to request comment on Rouhani’s assertion.
Despite his threats towards Iran, Trump remained open to meeting with Rouhani for much of his presidency. In August 2019, the former president told reporters there was a “really good chance” he would meet with his Iranian counterpart, even as the two sides were engaged in military brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf.
Relations later deteriorated further, beginning with the U.S. assassination of top Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike against Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops, injuring more than 100.
Tehran then accidentally shot down a passenger plane outside Tehran, with air defense units on high alert for an American strike.
But even after this series of events brought the two sides to the brink of war, Trump still believed he could make a deal with Tehran. In June, he warned Iranian leaders: “Don’t wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal. I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!”