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Trump Comment Appears To Catch Tehran Off-Guard


After pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposing sanctions, President Trump yesterday abruptly offered to meet with Iran, quote, "any time they want to," end quote. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, just hours before President Trump spoke, Iran had said a meeting with the U.S. was all but impossible.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: President Trump's announcement that he's willing to meet with Iran came just days after he tweeted that Iran would face severe consequences if it threatens the U.S., drawing a defiant reply from an Iranian general. In response to a reporter's question during a news conference Trump held with the Italian prime minister, the president said he's ready to meet Iran with no preconditions.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I believe in meeting. I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet. I don't know that they're ready yet. They're having a hard time right now. But I ended the Iran deal. It was a ridiculous deal. I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet, and I'm ready to meet anytime they want to. And I don't do that from strength or from weakness. I think it's an appropriate thing to do.

KENYON: Tehran's response came in a tweet from an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, who wrote, quote, "respecting the Iranian nation's rights, reducing hostilities and returning to the nuclear deal are steps that can be taken to pave the bumpy road of talks between Iran and America." Speaking just hours before Trump's comment, Iran's foreign ministry had appeared to rule out meeting with the U.S. anytime soon. Spokesman Bahram Qassemi told Iranian media that considering America's current policies, quote, "there will definitely not be the possibility of dialogue and engagement," adding that, quote, "the United States has shown that it is totally unreliable."

In May, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed American sanctions on Iran. The first set is due to kick in August 4. Another set, including punitive oil sanctions, is due to be reimposed in early November. While Trump said he would meet Iran with no preconditions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later added some. Pompeo told CNBC that the Iranians must demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their maligned behavior and also agree that it's worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation. Then, Pompeo said, Trump would be willing to sit down and talk. So as things stand, there appear to be plenty of conditions on both sides standing in the way of a U.S.-Iran meeting. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.