Sen. Rand Paul has received the go-ahead to try to repair Iranian-American relations from Donald Trump, raising concerns among some administration officials about the impact of such a mission on the president's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran, Politico reported on Thursday.
"Paul proposed sitting down with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to extend a fresh olive branch on the president’s behalf, according to four U.S. officials," Politico stated, noting that the exchanged happened while the two were playing golf this past weekend. "The aim: to reduce tensions between the two countries. Trump signed off on the idea."
Zarif is in New York this week for meetings at the UN and non-government figures.
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Paul, a senator from Kentucky, has a good relationship with Trump and has been urging him to stay true to his election promise of not starting new wars in the Middle East.
Paul, together with veteran Sen. Mike Lee, joined a group of Democratic senators in demanding that Trump not take any military action against Iran without first seeking congressional approval.
Paul's strategy is opposed by administration hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advsier John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, who said last week that the United States would not waver from its course of maximum pressure on Iran. Also last week, Pompeo said the United States has implemented the "strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime," before adding "and we are not done." Bolton is a longtime advocate of regime change in Iran.
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While there is no known plan for Paul and Zarif to meet, the foreign minister had said this week that Iran's ballistic missile program could be up for negotiations with the United States before backtracking on the remark Thursday. Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in a televised speech on Sunday that Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year.
Tensions with Iran have been on the rise since the first anniversary of Trump withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, when Iran announced it would start increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in violation of the deal.
Since then, Iran breached the enriched uranium level allowed by the deal, allegedly sabotaged oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and shot down an American drone in controversial circumstances. Meanwhile, Trump has threatened to increase sanctions against Iran. He claimed on Tuesday that a lot of progress had been made with Iran and that he was not looking for a regime change in Tehran. The United States tightly restricted the travel of more than a dozen Iranian diplomats and their families living in New York on Wednesday, a move Zarif termed as "inhuman."
The diplomats are subjected to the same rules imposed by the United States on Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who arrived on Sunday amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
They may only travel between the United Nations, the Iranian UN mission, the Iranian UN ambassador’s residence and John F. Kennedy airport. There is also a carve out for the six blocks surrounding Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City in the borough of Queens. It was not immediately clear why.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.