Trump Ready to Meet Rohani Without Preconditions, Pompeo Says Hours After Bolton Fired

Iranian official says national security adviser's sacking proves failure of U.S. policy, while Washington announces new sanctions against Iran, Hamas, Al-Qaida and Hezbollah

Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One on Aug. 23, 2019.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that President Trump is willing to meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani “with no preconditions.” 

Pompeo made the comment in reply to a question on whether Trump could meet Rohani before the end of the month, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Pompeo replied positively to the question.

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Pompeo spoke in a press conference with Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, during which new American sanctions were announced against Iran, Hamas, Al-Qaida and Hezbollah.

The press conference was also supposed to include National Security Adviser John Bolton, but he was fired by Trump via Twitter shortly before it took place. Pompeo backed Trump’s decision to fire Bolton, saying that the president has the right to choose his own staff.

An adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that Trump's firing of Bolton pointed to the failure of Washington's "maximum pressure strategy" against Iran.

"The marginalization and subsequent elimination of Bolton is not an accident but a decisive sign of the failure of the U.S. maximum pressure strategy in the face of the constructive resistance of Iran," Hesameddin Ashena tweeted.

Earlier on Tuesday the U.S. said it was "totally unacceptable" for Iran to drag its feet in cooperating with the UN nuclear watchdog, which is seeking answers to issues that diplomats say include the discovery of uranium traces at an undeclared site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing Iran's nuclear deal with major powers, has called in recent days on Iran to step up its cooperation, warning "time is of the essence".

While the watchdog has declined to comment on what prompted the warning, diplomats told Reuters inspectors had found traces of uranium at a site in Iran which Israel has described as a "secret atomic warehouse".
"Any indication that Iran is providing insufficient cooperation to the IAEA on a matter involving potential undeclared nuclear material or activities raises serious and profound questions," the U.S. statement to a quarterly IAEA Board of Governors meeting said.

"Iran's failure to resolve the Agency's concerns on this matter is completely unacceptable and should be of deep concern to all who support the IAEA and its safeguards verification regime."

The acting head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog (IAEA), Cornel Feruta, shakes hands with Ali Akbar Salehi, director of Iran's nuclear energy agency in Tehran, Iran, on September 8, 2019.
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Iran has guaranteed the IAEA access to its nuclear program as part of a 2015 deal with world powers under which Tehran accepted curbs on its atomic activities in return for access to world trade.

The United States withdrew from the agreement last year and imposed sanctions on Iran with the aim of halting its oil exports and forcing Tehran to negotiate a more sweeping "comprehensive deal."

Iran has said it will negotiate only if Washington lifts the sanctions. In the meantime, it has begun breaching some of the deal's restrictions on its atomic activities, in what it calls a step-by-step, reversible response to the U.S. withdrawal and the failure of European countries to protect it from U.S. measures.

The IAEA's acting chief Cornel Feruta has travelled to Tehran in recent days. He said his call to step up cooperation was "very well understood" by Iranian officials he met. His agency has declined to comment on the specifics of its questions as they are confidential.

"Any potential delay, denial, or deception by Iran that inhibits the IAEA's essential safeguards verification work must be addressed immediately," the U.S. statement said.

"Refusal by Iran to do so will only underscore our concern that the matters before us may relate to serious questions regarding Iran's compliance with its safeguards obligations."

Also on Tuesday, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit warned that Iranian intervention in the Arab region had become "dangerous."

"Iran's interventions in Arab affairs have begun to take more dangerous forms - from fueling crises in the countries to threatening the security of navigation and energy supply," Abul Gheit told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, adding Iran should "stop intervining" in Yemen.

DPA contributed to this report.