WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions — his first overture at diplomatic talks since trading Twitter threats with Tehran last week.
“I’m ready to meet any time they want to,” Trump told reporters at the White House during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “And I don’t do that from strength or from weakness. I think it’s an appropriate thing to do.”
The president’s declaration came a week after he issued an all-caps warning to Iran via Twitter, in response to comments Rouhani made that war with Iran would lead to “the mother of all wars.” Tensions have escalated between leaders of both countries after Trump withdrew from the multination Iran nuclear deal in May. Trump has described the Obama-era accord, aimed at stopping Iran's development of nuclear weapons, as “weak” and “ineffective.”
"To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump tweeted on July 22.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif shot back with his own tweet soon after, writing: “COLOR US UNIMPRESSED … We’ve been around for millennia & seen fall of empires, incl [including] our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries. BE CAUTIOUS!”
Trump on Monday cited his recent meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin to underscore his willingness to negotiate with leaders long regarded as U.S. adversaries.
“I believe in meeting,” Trump said.
Asked if he had any preconditions for meeting with Rouhani, Trump said he had none.
Iran’s government seemed less willing to entertain the prospect of a meeting with Trump. Reuters reported Monday that Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told reporters at a news conference in Tehran: “With current America and these policies, there will definitely not be the possibility of dialogue and engagement, and the United States has shown that it is totally unreliable.”
If Trump and Rouhani were to meet, it would be the first time a U.S. president has met one-on-one with an Iranian leader since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979, after the Iranian revolution resulted in the removal of the country’s existing leadership. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Rouhani in 2013.
Earlier in Monday’s White House news conference, Trump doubled-down on his threat to force a government shutdown if Congress does not approve an immigration overhaul package that includes $25 billion in funding for his proposed southern border wall.
“If we don’t get border security after many many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown,” Trump said, repeating the same threat he made on Twitter a day earlier.
On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders, facing a Sept. 30 government funding deadline, were less eager to embrace the prospect of a shutdown.
“I’m optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters when asked about Trump’s remarks.
In remarks delivered on the Senate floor, McConnell insisted the chamber would “finish up the set of appropriations measures we’ve been considering for several days, and take four more big steps towards our goal of completing a regular appropriations process and funding the government in a timely and orderly manner.”
Trump said he would be willing to “leave room for negotiation,” when asked about the likelihood of vetoing a spending bill if it does not include the full $25 billion price he is seeking for his border wall project.
Neither the House nor Senate have included the full amount in their spending proposals. The Senate Appropriations Committee has set aside $1.6 billion for the border wall compared to the House, which has approved $5 billion in funding.