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    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

    Trump Wanted to Meet Zarif at White House Weeks Before Sanctioning Iran's Top Diplomat - Report

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    Just weeks before the US Treasury Department sanctioned Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister was reportedly invited to hold talks with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Neither the US, nor the Iranian side have commented on the speculations yet.

    Iran's top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif received an invitation to the White House last month as tensions between Tehran and Washington reached a fever pitch, The New Yorker reported, citing American and Iranian sources, as well as a "well-informed" diplomat.

    The offer was reportedly made by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul after he had discussed the idea with President Donald Trump while the two were playing a round of golf in Virginia on 14 July.

    The following day, Paul, who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, allegedly met with Zarif in New York, at the residence of Iran's UN envoy, where he made the diplomatic overture.

    According to the sources, the two discussed Iran's nuclear programme, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the nuclear deal, and the escalation of the situation in the Persian Gulf  following so-called "sabotage attacks" on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Tehran, and the Iranian shootdown of a US spy drone, which, per Tehran, violated Iranian airspace. 

    An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019
    © AP Photo / ISNA
    An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019

    As the diplomatic crisis nearly turned into a military confrontation, with President Trump calling off an airstrike at the last minute, Paul ostensibly decided to work towards easing tensions.

    The New Yorker further suggests that Zarif came up with a bunch of advice on how to break the impasse over the nuclear deal as well as how to handle some of POTUS' concerns. One of those supposed ideas was that Iran could legislate a 2003 and 2010 fatwa issued by the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that prohibits the production and use of nuclear weapons.

    Another possibility reportedly consisted in ratifying the so-called Additional Protocol, which would allow inspectors to "conduct complementary access to any location in Iran". In exchange, the Iranian diplomat is said to have suggested that Trump should go to Congress to lift sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

    Per anonymous sources, Paul proposed that Zarif lay out his thoughts to Trump in person, since POTUS had allegedly authorised the senator to invite the foreign minister for a meeting at the White House that week. However, Zarif reportdely replied that he could not make a unilateral decision to meet with the US president without consulting Tehran first, and purportedly expressed concern that the encounter would be more of a photo op.

    The meeting never happened. Neither American, nor Iranian officials have commented on the report so far.

    Tensions Running High

    The story by The New Yorker comes a few days after the US Treasury Department introduced sanctions against Zarif in what Steven Mnuchin described as "a clear message" to Tehran that "its recent behaviour is completely unacceptable".

    The Iranian foreign minister was quick to respond to the move, sarcastically thanking Washington for considering him such a "huge threat to [its] agenda".

    The developments come as the US is pushing for "maximum pressure" on Iran and is lobbying European countries and other nations around the world to join its international maritime coalition against Tehran.

    According to the plan, so-called Operation Sentinel is expected to operate in the Persian Gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz, in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Oman to secure navigation routes in the wake of oil tanker incidents there. The alleged attacks were blamed on Tehran - something it has vehemently denied.

    Relations between Washington and Tehran have been in a downward spiral since May 2018, when Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated all sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On the one-year anniversary of the unilateral US pullout from the agreement, Iran announced that it would suspend some of its voluntary commitments under the deal, but stressed that it is not interested in developing nuclear weapons.

    Tags:
    oil tanker, Persian Gulf, escalation, Rand Paul, meeting, talks, USA, Iran, White House, Donald Trump, Mohammad Javad Zarif
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