Trump’s Phony Call For Negotiations With Iran

The White House claims to want to talk to Iran but the President's actions make clear that negotiation is the furthest thing from his mind.

Late last week, President Trump made what his White House claims to be an offer to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program and other issues, but it’s clear that negotiation is the furthest thing from his mind:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leadership to sit down and talk with him about giving up Tehran’s nuclear programme and said he could not rule out a military confrontation given the heightened tensions between the two countries.

At an impromptu news conference at the White House, Trump declined to say what prompted him to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the region over what was described as unspecified threats.

“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” said Trump.

“They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.”

Trump was asked whether there was a risk of military confrontation with the American military presence in the area.

“I guess you could say that always, right? I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen. We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that is loaded up and we don’t want to do anything,” he said.

Trump, who last year pulled Washington out of a 2015 nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran, has expressed a willingness to meet Iranian leaders in the past to no avail and renewed that appeal in talking to reporters.

“What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down. We can make a deal, a fair deal, we just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons – not too much to ask. And we would help put them back to great shape.”

He added: “They should call. If they do, we’re open to talk to them.”

Asked about Trump’s comments, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi said Iran had been talking with the six powers, including the United States, within the framework of the nuclear deal.

“All of a sudden he decided to leave the negotiating table. … What is the guarantee that he will not renege again?” Takht Ravanchi said in an MSNBC interview.

He dismissed U.S. allegations of an Iranian threat as “fake intelligence” and said they were “being produced by the same people who in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq did the same.”

As Daniel Larison notes, while this rhetoric appears to be conciliatory and open to discussions with the Islamic Republic, the reality is far different:

When Trump says things like this, it confirms what we knew all along: the administration’s rhetoric about negotiating a “better” deal is empty posturing. If all that the administration wanted was for Iran not to have nuclear weapons, there would have been no escalating U.S. sanctions pressure campaign over the last year. If keeping Iran from building nuclear weapons was Trump’s only concern, he could have kept the U.S. in the nonproliferation agreement that ensured that Iran would be unable to build nuclear weapons. Instead, Trump reneged on the deal, reimposed sanctions without cause, and issued a series of absurd and unrealistic demands that no self-respecting government would accept. Once he reneged on the agreement, Trump proved that he couldn’t be trusted to keep any promises, and he gave Iran every reason not to negotiate with a government that broke its word.

Iranian leaders aren’t going to take the risk of negotiating with the U.S. again, especially not when this president is still in office, because they were burned so badly by the last experience and because they can’t believe promises of sanctions relief when earlier promises were arbitrarily revoked. Supposing that Zarif or Rouhani did call Trump up, what would they possibly have to talk about? Iran won’t accede to the administration’s preposterous demands, and Trump has shown no interest in lifting sanctions until Iran capitulates (and perhaps not even then). Iranian officials have made it clear that there won’t be negotiations on any other issues until the U.S. returns to the JCPOA, and that will never happen as long as Trump is the president. Even if Trump were sincere in his desire to negotiate now (he isn’t), he already burned those bridges a year ago when he violated the agreement.

In May 2017, for example, Trump lifted another set of sanctions pursuant to the requirements of the JCPOA. Later in the year, Trump again stopped short of withdrawing from the agreement but at the same time declined to certify to Congress that Iran was in compliance with the agreement, which many observers saw as the first step in a process that would lead to a full repudiation of the agreement. This decision to decertify compliance came despite the fact that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both said on the record that Iran was complying with its obligations and that staying in the agreement was in the national interests of the United States. The also took this step despite the fact that the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the agreement, has said each time it has been required to report on the status of the agreement that Iran is living up to its obligations under the agreement. Finally, in May of last year, Trump pulled the trigger and withdrew the United States from the agreement, thus setting in motion the decision to reimpose sanctions that were announced today. Despite all of that, it has become clear that the Trump Administration’s policies regarding Iran aren’t working, that the JCPOA remains intact despite the American withdrawal, and that it appears self-evident that Trump’s policies were never intended to work:

Instead of accepting the idea that the Trump Administration is proceeding down a road that it won’t succeed based on either ignorance or foolishness, though, let me offer an alternative hypothesis. Namely, that the U.S. policy toward Iran isn’t working because it ultimately isn’t supposed to work. Many of the President’s top advisers, including National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have made no secret of the fact that they believe that the only solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear program and the very existence of the Islamic Republic is military action. This is an argument that has also been made repeatedly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and supporters of Israel in the United States who have long argued in favor of immediate military action against the Islamic Republic despite the fact that there is little evidence that such action would either have any impact on Iran’s military research programs or on the sustainability of the regime. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Administration is consciously pursuing these policies with the idea of setting up an argument for war. but it does mean that because of the bias in favor of the eventual need for military action that exists in the Administration and the GOP generally the fact that the current policy is doomed to fail is a feature, not a bug.

The best evidence of this can be seen in the Administration’s increasingly militaristic rhetoric and policies directed at Tehran, including not just continued American support for the Saudi war on Yemen that has targeted Iranian allies but also the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group, along with a group of B-52 bombers, to the region as a “signal” to Iran. Additionally, today The New York Times is reporting that the Administration is drawing up plans for moving as many as 120,000 American troops to the region in response to a “threatening” move by Iran. This can only lead to the conclusion that the Administration is intent on ramping up tensions in the Gulf, not calming them down, and the danger in that move is that it will end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Iran, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kathy says:

    Does it surprise anyone that the man who portrays desperate refugees, largely women and children, as hardened, dangerous criminals, would take compliance with a multilateral agreement as a provocation?

    History is full of diplomatic moves which were not supposed to work. An infamous one is the concession Austria-Hungary demanded of Serbia in the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. The result was WWI (BTW, the Serbs did accede to several demands).

    Austria-Hungary had a notion of what would happen next. They were very wrong, but they knew Europe-wide war would follow. Dennison has no clue what happens next, and apparently no interest either.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: I just imagine the fun that we’re going to have when Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz on top of a trade war with China AND Dennison having insulted everyone in the EU….

    Bye-bye stock market hello 1929 all over again.

    I wonder if Trump’s supporters will still vote for him again then? Judging by the commentary of some of them here, they’re definitely stupid enough to do so!

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I expect a Tonkin Gulf incident.

    1) Remember that it is no longer the CIA, it’s Trump’s CIA. If you were at all inclined to be skeptical of George W. Bush’s CIA, multiply that skepticism by 100. The assumption must be that any statement of intel from the Trump administration is a lie.

    2) Refuse to be played for suckers by the conman in chief. We have no more beef with Iran than we do with the murderous regime next door in Saudi Arabia. Iran is complying, the crisis when it comes will be entirely Trump-generated.

    3) People with kids considering military careers should stall them for two years until we can have some hope for rationality to break out. Joining the military under Trump is asking to die for a psychopath’s ego.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    3) People with kids considering military careers should stall them for two years until we can have some hope for rationality to break out. Joining the military under Trump is asking to die for a psychopath’s ego.

    My sons were 16 and 14 when the bombing of Baghdad commenced, I was not very happy that the post HS option of joining a military service had to be taken off the table so as to avoid their possible deaths in W’s vanity project.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I expect a Tonkin Gulf incident.

    I think they tried a Tonkin Gulf on the cheap yesterday with their just enough damage for TV tanker “attack”.

    As to the CIA, the deep state works for the czar.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Yep, it was the tanker ‘incidents’ that called Tonkin Gulf to mind.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Except that it looks like it’s the Saudis who are screaming “sabotage” and the U.S. looking over the pix and saying “we don’t see anything….”

    I suspect the WH asked the Saudis to back them up but haven’t gotten their talking points out…

    (I also wonder about the brain-damage involved if Israel has been trying to nudge the US to take out Iran. Can’t think of anything which would provide more ammunition to the Joos-rule-teh-world fruitcakes. Also that if it all goes turtle with the Straits of Hormuz being closed there’s going to be a LOT of angry Americans and it’s not going to be just the over-the-top crazies who will end up being pissed at Israel using the U.S. as their cat’s paw.)

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You mean the tanker attack perpetrated by the Saudi’s?

  9. Kathy says:

    I don’t know that Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz. I know they can try, which would be bad enough. If they try, a military response is not unreasonable.

    The problems is the type and size of response. Sinking or seizing their ships blocking the passage is not inappropriate. Invading the country is.

  10. al Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I expect a Tonkin Gulf incident.

    As do I, perhaps it’s bluster but if this tariff ‘negotiation’ continues to go south on our businesses and 401K plans, he’s going to need something like a war to distract his base.

    The Gulf of Trumpkin.

  11. Joe says:

    the Administration is drawing up plans for moving as many as 120,000 American troops to the region in response to a “threatening” move by Iran.

    I noticed a long time ago that the two Asian countries that the US has been occupying for nearly two decades (Iraq and Afghanistan) both border on a common country (Iran). I have always assumed that aspect of their geography has been a big contributor to our continued presence.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Iran can’t close the straits to the US Navy, but it can close it to tankers. Sink one big tanker and the insurance companies will refuse to cover shipping in the Gulf. The USN will of course offer to convoy tankers, but that’s a rather involved bit of work and one failure – one tanker hits a mine – and that idea will be over as well. Then the oil prices really start to rise.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: Sink a few tankers in the right spots in the Straits of Hormuz and you create a bottleneck, period. Fuhgettabaht the insurance companies–nobody ain’t going to get another tanker past what’s essentially a man-made reef.

    I’m sure the Chinese are snickering.

  14. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Oh, yes. I remember the last time the Gulf was mined in the 80s. Kuwaiti oil tankers were re-flagged with the Stars and Stripes, and one Iranian airliner was shot down while it climbed over the Gulf.

    We really don’t need that now.

  15. Gustopher says:

    “We have information that you don’t want to know about,” said Trump.

    Yeah, that’s how a democracy should run.

    Ok, to be fair, he’s just flat out lying, and not hiding the terrifying things the Iranians are doing (zombie soldiers with ebola marching relentlessly across the sea bed, working their way to the west coast of the United States?).

  16. Teve says:

    Firing Line with Margaret Hoover

    tells Firing Line if it comes to war with Iran, he is confident the United States would win, and would win swiftly. “Two strikes, the first strike and the last strike,” says the Senator.

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    Even assuming Trump’s offer of negotiations were in earnest, why should the Iranians take him up on it? He’s already shown he’ll tear up an agreement they are 100% in compliance with. You negotiate a deal and, ten minutes later, he declares you’ve violated it? This is what I warned about when he cancelled the nuclear deal. We’re seeing it in action now.