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Trump: 'Really Good Chance' He Will Meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani


U.S. President Donald Trump (L) on July 22, 2018, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Feb. 6, 2018.

VOA Persian’s Katherine Ahn contributed to this report.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday "there's a really good chance" he would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the coming weeks to try to negotiate a new deal to curb Tehran's nuclear weapons program to replace the 2015 international deal that Trump withdrew from last year.

Trump, speaking at the end of the G-7 summit of top world leaders in France, said, "I think Iran is going to want to meet."

The U.S. leader said the economic sanctions he reimposed on Iran a year ago "are absolutely hurting them" as Trump has sought to sharply limit Iran's international oil exports.

But Trump predicated any meeting with Rouhani on the condition that Iran not create more overseas tensions with military advances and attacks. He said a new deal would have to ban Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing and cover a longer period than the 10-year time frame dictated by the 2015 accord.

Trump added, "I have good feelings about Iran...incredible people." But he said it was too soon to meet over the weekend with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was a surprise visitor at the G-7 summit in the Atlantic coastal town of Biarritz, at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The French leader has been trying to broker U.S.-Iran peace talks. Macron told a joint news conference with Trump that he has had conversations with Rouhani and that the Iranian leader is willing to meet with Trump.

Macron said he had reached the "very cautious" conclusion that Washington and Tehran could reach an agreement if Trump and Rouhani meet.

Macron said France "will play a role" in the U.S.-Iran talks if they occur, along with the other signatories to the 2015 accord Trump pulled out of -- Britain, Germany, the European Union, China and Russia.

In a speech Monday before Trump's comments, Rouhani said his country would withstand sanctions and reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal, "but we will open the door for negotiation and diplomacy."

"If I think that meeting with someone can resolve my country's problems, I will not hesitate, because protecting the national interests of my country is a principle for me," he said.

In a Monday interview with VOA Persian, foreign policy researcher Luke Coffey of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation said Trump’s expressed openness to talks with Rouhani indicates a possibility of such a meeting within the coming months.

“But I think that we need an extended period of calm in which we don’t have Iranians taking ships in international waters and, let’s say, the U.S. is not ramping up even more sanctions,” Coffey added. Iran seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Persian Gulf on July 19, accusing it of violating international maritime rules. Britain said it was Iran that violated international law by seizing the vessel in Omani waters.

Speaking separately to VOA Persian, Washington Institute for Near East Policy senior fellow Barbara Leaf said a potential Trump-Rouhani meeting would not in itself resolve decades of hostility between the two sides. “A meeting ... will be quite a seismic event if that is to occur. But a meeting is not a negotiation, which necessarily will be a long and complex task,” she said.

Trump said Zarif's visit to Biarritz was not a surprise to him.

Trump said he was in contact with Macron and that, "I knew everything he was doing and approved whatever he was doing."

Macron had met with Zarif on Friday in Paris before the G-7 summit opened, but Macron invited him back to the site of the summit after tense exchanges among the world leaders about Iran at their Saturday night dinner.

Iran and the United States have been in a state of heightened strained relations since Trump withdrew last year from the international agreement that restrained Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump then added more sanctions, particularly targeting Iran's key oil sector, that have hobbled the country's economy.

WATCH: Trump expects meeting with Iran

Trump May Meet With Iran's Rouhani
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Trump said Monday he is not seeking "regime change" in Iran, but wants the country to "stop terrorism."

"I think they're going to change. I really do. I believe they have a chance to be a very special nation," Trump said.

Macron had lunch with Trump Saturday, and, according to French sources, outlined his plan to ease the West's tensions with Iran. The French leader is calling for allowing Iran to export its oil for a short time, fully implement the 2015 agreement, reduce conflict in the Gulf region and open new talks.

Macron on Monday said Iran would need new funding to help stabilize its economy. Trump said that would not include outright cash grants but rather letters of credit that "would be paid back very quickly."