Iran’s president retreated Tuesday from a possible meeting with President Trump, saying the U.S. first must lift sanctions against Tehran before holding any meaningful talks about a new nuclear deal.
“Without the U.S.’ withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech, adding that Washington “holds the key” as to what happens next.
“If someone intends to make it as just a photo-op with Rouhani, that is not possible,” he said.
Lifting sanctions as a condition for new negotiations is a certain non-starter for the U.S.
Mr. Rouhani’s backtracking came a day after Mr. Trump said there’s a “really good chance” the two could meet within the next few weeks to discuss a new nuclear agreement. French President Emmanuel Macron tried to bring both sides together during the Group of Seven summit last weekend.
On Monday, Mr. Rouhani sounded more open to a meeting with Mr. Trump, saying “we should not miss opportunities” to resolve the impasse between the two nations.
Both leaders are expected to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York in late September.
Mr. Rouhani said Tuesday that Iran would continue to scale back its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal if sanctions were not lifted.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have increased steadily since the U.S. withdrew from that multinational nuclear deal last year. The U.S. reimposed sanctions on Tehran, and in turn, Iran has increased enrichment of uranium and its stockpiles beyond the levels stipulated by the 2015 agreement.
“Our path is clear: If they return to their commitments, we will do the same, and we are looking after settling issues through the logical way,” Mr. Rouhani said.
Mr. Trump suggested at the Group of Seven summit in France that he was willing to accept a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to meet with Mr. Rouhani.
“The sanctions are absolutely hurting them horribly,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t want to see that. But we can’t let them have a nuclear weapon. So, I think there is a really good chance we would meet.”
Mr. Macron, a strong advocate of the nuclear deal, invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the annual G-7 summit.
“I want this meeting to happen, and I want there to be an agreement between the United States and Iran,” Mr. Macron said Monday.
Mr. Trump also seemed open to Mr. Macron’s proposal for additional “compensation” for Iran to enter into a new nuclear deal. Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for giving Iran billions in freed-up assets and about $1.7 billion in cash as part of the deal four years ago, but said the new money would be in the form of a loan.
“No we are not paying, we don’t pay,” Mr. Trump said. “But they may need some money to get them over a very rough patch and if they do need money, and it would be secured by oil, which to me is great security. So we are really talking about a letter of credit. It would be from numerous countries, numerous countries.”
The presidents of the U.S. and Iran have not met since the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the two countries don’t have diplomatic ties.
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.