Trump and Iran Almost Had an Historic Phone Call (Iran Would Not Pick Up)

Daniel R. DePetris

In the week since President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York, we have learned several surprising details about what could have been a groundbreaking diplomatic achievement for both men.  

We learned, for instance, that French President Emmanuel Macron spent a frantic 48 hours shuttling back-and-forth between the two leaders with a draft document in hand, desperately trying to get both to sign on the dotted line. We learned that Trump agreed to the terms of the French plan, a development that suggests the president is growing despondent of a 15-month long maximum pressure strategy that has failed to achieve any of its policy objectives. And we learned that Trump and Rouhani were close to speaking to one another over a secure line, only for the Iranian president to refuse to pick up the receiver. With every day that passes, last week’s General Assembly session looks more and more like a missed opportunity for Washington and Tehran to at least wrap a tourniquet around the bleeding wound that is the U.S.-Iran relationship.

Delivering remarks to his cabinet on October 2, Rouhani unsurprisingly laid the blame on Donald Trump’s shoulders for the diplomatic impasse. Complaining about mixed messaging from the U.S. side, Rouhani criticized Trump for expressing his readiness to lift U.S. sanctions in private while vowing to increase the economic pressure in public. The Iranian president told his colleagues that Tehran simply couldn’t trust anything that came out of Trump’s mouth. “How can we believe and persuade the Iranians that we would not be deceived by the private message,” Rouhani asked, particularly when the person delivering the mixed message was the same individual who pulled the United States out of an internationally-negotiated nuclear deal?

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