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Trump’s Weird Offer to Meet Rouhani

The Postreports on a very strange story that has been making the rounds this week:

Just hours after President Trump finished calling Iran a “murderous regime” in his Sept. 19 speech at the United Nations, the administration asked French President Emmanuel Macron for a favor. Would Macron inquire whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was interested in speaking directly with Trump?

All three leaders were in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, as was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who conveyed the request to Macron, according to several administration and foreign officials.

Iran’s response, later that afternoon, was an unequivocal no. The Iranians, the French reported, “don’t believe you’re serious” and thought it was some kind of trick, a senior administration official said.

When the Iranian government initially claimed that Trump sought to speak to Rouhani at the U.N., it seemed hard to believe. After all, why would Trump want to talk to the Iranian president when he had just denounced the Iranian government in the harshest terms? For that matter, who on our side would expect a positive response from the Iranians following Trump’s display of hostility? It turns out that the original story was true, but we still don’t have satisfying answers to these questions. The administration’s explanation doesn’t make much sense:

Asked why Trump wanted to meet with Rouhani, the official said it was “in order to say, ‘Here’s all the mean stuff you do in the world, and we want you to stop. . . . If not, you should know we’re working on a strategy to get you to confront all of this.’ ”

The primary message, the official said, was that “the golden Obama-era window of rapprochement is over.”

If that account is correct, Trump wanted to meet with Rouhani for the sole purpose of issuing a threat, but that seems bizarre as well. There would be no reason to have a high-level meeting between presidents to deliver such an insulting message. There would certainly be no reason for their president to agree to a meeting where this would take place. Trump’s U.N. speech had already made the administration’s hostility to Iran perfectly clear, and the Iranian government could hardly fail to miss that. If this bungled attempt at making contact with Iran is any indication of how the administration thinks diplomacy is supposed to work, things are much worse than we thought.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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