Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani says a meeting between him and U.S. President Donald Trump in October 2019 was scrapped because of the White House’s refusal to hold off on publicizing the event until after it took place.
Rohani says in his new book Without Smoke, Fire, And Blood, an account of his eight years as president of Iran, that he was ready to go against the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and meet with the U.S. leader in New York during a United Nations General Assembly in hopes the talks could lead to the easing of some U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
At the time, France and Britain were lobbying for the Trump meeting to try and ease the situation. Other countries, including Germany, Japan, and Pakistan, are also said to have requested a meeting between Trump and Rohani.
“It was clear to me that Trump is an actor,” Rohani says in the book, excerpts of which have been released ahead of its publication in Iran.
“He was not a normal person. Every moment he was playing a role, and he did it capably. My concern was that if they announced the news [beforehand] the game would be ruined. We said: first the meeting, then the news.”
Rohani was president when Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of a 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and world powers.
The U.S. leader called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in which Tehran agreed to curb sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, “a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.”
Trump immediately imposed crippling new sanctions, which has led to Iran gradually pulling away from the deal and bolstering its nuclear program.
“In the end, we concluded that it was impossible to have a frank and honest conversation with Trump as equals,” Rohani says in the book.
“We had to trust the American president, which was a very difficult thing to do. Perhaps if the Americans had a different president, this could have been done and over with,” he added, noting in a September 4 interview with the Jamaran website that if Barack Obama was still the president instead of Trump, “I would definitely have gone to that meeting.”
In the Jamaran interview, Rohani said that after the United States withdrew from the JCPOA, the initial decision by Iran was to do the same, though in the end Tehran said it would remain faithful to the deal.
“Even [Russian President Vladimir] Putin said that if you had withdrawn from the JCPOA, Trump would have breathed a sigh of relief,” Rohani said.
Iran claims its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. During its gradual withdrawal from the JCPOA, it has ramped up its activities, enriching uranium well beyond the thresholds allowed in the original agreement.
Negotiations to revive the JCPOA have been held since Joe Biden’s administration took over the White House in 2020 but have failed to yield a new deal.