No US-Iran summit at UN, tensions soar

“There are signals that Iran is willing to contemplate an Iran Nuclear Deal Plus," said Roland Popp, a security analyst specialising on Middle Eastern affairs.
Saturday 28/09/2019
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens as Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 25. (AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens as Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 25. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Tensions between Iran and the United States escalated as the leaders of the two countries made conflicting claims in their continuing row over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and regional aggression, frustrating European efforts to organise the first summit between the two countries.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said US President Donald Trump had offered to lift all US sanctions in exchange for Iran’s willingness to join an Iranian-US summit during the UN General Assembly in New York. Trump denied any such offer had been made, saying that Iran wanted sanctions relief as a precondition for talks. “I said, of course, NO!” Trump tweeted.

In his speech at the United Nations, Trump accused Iranian leaders of “bloodlust” and called on other nations to put pressure on Iran after the September 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Washington blames on Tehran despite its denials.

Led by France, European powers worked to organise a meeting between Trump and Rohani in New York.

Roland Popp, a security analyst specialising on Middle Eastern affairs, said conditions in New York were not right for a summit.

“There are signals that Iran is willing to contemplate an Iran Nuclear Deal Plus, which could be a face-saving device for Trump’s retreat from the brink,” Popp said by e-mail, in reference to the 2015 nuclear agreement that Trump tore up last year.

A new pact “might include some boilerplate language on Iran’s regional policies and some aspirational language on ballistic missiles,” Popp added.

However, he said he did not expect Iran to give in to US demands on missiles or regional policies. “I doubt that Rohani can start negotiations with Trump without sanctions relief and I don’t see Trump granting relief as this would make him vulnerable in the domestic sphere,” Popp said.

In a sign that both Iran and the United States remain publicly open to some form of dialogue despite their political differences, which have raised the risk of war in the Middle East, officials said the two sides were in contact over a possible prisoner swap.

US authorities released and deported an Iranian woman, Negar Ghodskani, who had pleaded guilty to exporting restricted US technology to Iran. There was speculation that Iran might release a detained US doctoral student, Xiyue Wang.

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