Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a challenge to President Donald Trump on Monday, saying the Islamic Republic would welcome talks with the US “right now.”
“I don’t have preconditions. If the US government is willing, let’s start right now,” Rouhani said during an interview that aired on state television late Monday local time, just hours before the US renewed sanctions on Iran. “If there is sincerity, Iran has always welcomed dialogue and negotiations,” Rouhani said.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, when asked about the offer by CNN’s Jake Tapper, dismissed it as possible “propaganda.”
“Let’s see what really comes of it or whether it’s just more propaganda,” Bolton said, adding that Trump has been “consistent” that he would be willing to negotiate with regimes such as North Korea and Iran.
“If the Iranians are really willing to come and talk about all of their malign behavior in the region and around the world, I think they’d find the President willing to do it,” Bolton said.
But the Iranian President expressed concern that Trump is the unreliable one, pointing out that the US President has backed out of previous dialogue with Tehran as well as other international agreements.
‘The coming Congress elections’
“The person who is claiming to be willing to negotiate today has withdrawn from all international commitments, from Paris Agreement (on climate change) to its business commitments with other countries,” Rouhani said.
He indicated that Iran would want the US to scale back sanctions before any talks could begin. “If somebody puts a knife in its opponent or enemy’s arm and says we want to negotiate, the answer is that they must first pull out the knife and then come to the negotiation table,” Rouhani said. He added that “these sanctions are targeting Iranian children and people.”
Rouhani also suggested that the Trump administration is ramping up sanctions and rhetoric on Iran in part for domestic consumption as November’s midterm elections draw near.
“I believe that they want to wage a psychological war and create skepticism in the Iranian people to be able to use it in the coming Congress elections,” Rouhani said. “So Trump’s remarks are aimed at taking advantage of them in Congress elections.”
Rouhani also sought to downplay the impact of newly reimposed US sanctions announced by the Trump administration on Monday – reiterating his unspoken theme that it is the US, not Iran, that finds itself increasingly isolated.
“They will exert pressure on us and cause pain, but we will certainly come out of the end of this healthier,” he said about the penalties that went back into effect at 12:01am ET Tuesday.
“I think if in unison, if we work together, we will make America regret this action very quickly. If we work together, the world will understand and America will understand that these sanctions are not effective,” Rouhani added.
Specifically, Rouhani said China and Russia have indicated they will not abide by US sanctions despite Trump’s threat of “severe consequences” for those who continue to trade with Iran.
“Last month I was in Europe, conducted talks with China,” Rouhani said. “Their promise: They will ignore the American sanctions.”
“China is our biggest trading partner. China and Russia stated clearly they will stand with the framework of our agreement,” he said.
Monday’s announcement by the US covers the first of two rounds of sanctions the US is unilaterally reimposing as a result of leaving the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Rouhani also mentioned that when a French company pulled out of a gas project it had signed on to, China immediately stepped in to fill that void. “Under current conditions, Asian countries (are of) utmost importance to us,” he said.
The sanctions that went into effect Tuesday cover the purchase or acquisition of US dollars by the Iranian government; trade in gold or other precious metals; the direct and indirect sale, supply or transfer to or from Iran of graphite, raw or semi-finished metals such as aluminum, steels and coal; as well as significant transactions of the Iranian currency; and the country’s auto sector.
The other signatories to the nuclear deal, including the European Union, Russia and China, are sticking with the accord. In a statement Monday, the EU, the UK, France and Germany said they “deeply regret” the US action. The EU announced it would take legal steps to protect European companies “doing legitimate business in Iran.”
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette and Donna Borak contributed to this report.