Hassan Rouhani, the only Iranian president who has ever spoken to a US president, says he had a chance to talk with Donald Trump when he was in New York in 2019.
Rouhani talked with US President Barack Obama over the phone in September 2013. Obama initiated the call when the Iranian president was on his way to the airport to fly back to Iran after attending the UN General Assembly meeting.
Aftab News website in Iran on September 4, quoted one of the three authors of a book about Rouhani's presidency as saying that "although tensions between Tehran and Washington rose to an unprecedented high level during Donald Trump's Presidency, Rouhani was only one step short of meeting with Trump in 2019."
The meeting, which was well publicized at the time, did not take place, but Rouhani has spoken about the chance to shake hands with Trump in a recent meeting with a circle of insiders including the three authors of "A War with No Fire or Smoke" Behran Mehrju, Vali Khalili and Arash Pourebrahimi. However, Aftab News did not reveal which of the trio disclosed Rouhani's remarks.
"If Obama was in office as US President rather than Trump, I would have definitely gone to meet with him," the author quoted Rouhani. The remark reminded the author of a statement made by Rouhani in 2013 before becoming Iran's President. Rouhani had said pointing at his chest: "My heart is full of secrets, but I will speak only when someone challenges and provokes me."
Three chances for peace
Rouhani said that Iran had three chances to make peace with America and end the US sanctions. "In the first occasion Europeans led by French President Emmanuel Macron tried to mediate between Tehran and Washington. The second occasion was former Japanese Prime Minister,” who took the lead as mediator. And the third one came up during his visit to New York in September 2019.
"The P5+1 members also came there. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkle who rarely went to New York also showed up. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also came although he was in the middle of a domestic political tempest. Russia and China's foreign ministers also extended their visit to New York. Mediators were trying to solve the problems between Iran and America, and everything was prepared for direct talks."
Who takes credit?
But there was a problem. Rouhani recalled: "Trump insisted that he should break out the news about the meeting. But I knew he was an actor. He was not an ordinary man. He was acting all the time. A good actor. I was worried that he might announce the meeting and then disrupt the game."
Rouhani was even ready to take part in the meeting on the condition that the news of the meeting would be released while the meeting was taking place. "But at the last minute, we decided that there was no chance for an honest dialogue with Trump on equal footing. And others knew about it."
What about Khamenei?
Rouhani’s account of the events in 2019 should be considered from another angel. No one knows for sure whether Rouhani contacted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the meantime, but based on previous experience, Khamenei most likely intervened at the last moment and cancelled the meeting. Knowing Khamenei and Rouhani, it is unconceivable to think that Rouhani would have met Trump without first seeking Khamenei's permission.
At the same time in Tehran, -then- government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Rouhani was not slated to meet with Trump and that no conditions have been set for such a meeting. "There is no reason for a meeting between Rouhani and an economic terrorist," said Rabiei.
Nonetheless, later in October Rouhani blamed Trump for the failure of the talks in which he said Macron was also slated to take part. He was probably referring to the fact that Trump imposed a new set of sanctions on Iran on 24 September 2019 after he realized that a meeting with Rouhani was not going to take place.