President Donald Trump reportedly asked French President Emmanuel Macron to broker a conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, according to several administration and foreign officials who spoke with The Washington Post. The three leaders were all in New York City in September for the U.N. General Assembly opening. But the Iranians turned the inquiry down, thinking it was some sort of trick. They “don’t believe you’re serious,” the French reported back to the Americans. Just hours before, Trump had referred to Iran as a “murderous regime” and a “corrupt dictatorship” during his address to the United Nations.
The meeting would have been the highest level contact between Iranian and U.S. officials since the 1979 revolution. The highest-level contact to date is the 2013 phone conversation between President Barack Obama and President Rouhani. A senior administration official said Trump intended to tell Rouhani that “the golden Obama-era windows of rapprochement is over” and urge Iran to stop its destabilizing behavior worldwide. Some officials, however, described the meeting request as “vague,” and did not specify if President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or other officials would have spoken with Rouhani. The following is a rundown of how the story about Trump’s request, later confirmed by the State Department, developed.
Oct. 29, 2017: Mehdi Fazaeli reported that Trump requested a meeting but that Rouhani declined, even after Macron offered to facilitate. The article, titled “Devil’s Smile: Rouhani’s negative response to Trump’s request for an in-person meeting,” was published by the conservative Fars News Agency.
When Iranian media asked Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi about the story, he confirmed the request but not Macron’s role. "Indeed a request was made by the American side but it was not accepted by President Rouhani," Ghassemi said.
Oct. 30, 2017: White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News via email that Ghassemi’s statement was “false.”
Oct. 31, 2017: In a daily press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed that the request for the meeting had been made. The following is an excerpt from the transcript.
QUESTION: So administration officials have confirmed that Tillerson floated the idea of top U.S. Government officials meeting with Iranian Government officials during the UN General Assembly meetings. Can you give us some more details on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I know that that was something that the Secretary had floated. The country – the Iranian officials said no, and that was the end of it.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. The Secretary is the most senior-ranking cabinet agency chief in this government. He met with the Iranian foreign minister. You’re talking about something other than that?
MS NAUERT: Well, they had the meeting in New York, which was a part of --
QUESTION: I know, and they sat in a room alone with their delegations for several minutes.
MS NAUERT: Which was a part of – the countries that are part of the signatory to the JCPOA. And they had a lengthy conversation, and the Secretary certainly called out, as many of you have probably read, the Iranian Government for its destabilizing activities that date back 40-plus years.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m not – my question is – her question was: Did he raise the idea of senior officials meeting with Iranian officials? And you’re saying --
MS NAUERT: I think I just answered that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but he himself met with a senior Iranian official.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you talking about he floated the idea of other administration officials meeting with the same Iranian official he met or even more senior Iranian officials?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of exactly who it was, who in the Iranian delegation would have been included in that, but I know that that idea was floated.
QUESTION: And floated with whom? With Zarif?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure exactly.
QUESTION: And so was Tehran correct in saying that Iran had turned down the offer for a meeting with the President Trump?
MS NAUERT: They did.
QUESTION: They did turn down a meeting with the President?
MS NAUERT: They did turn down a meeting, yes, with U.S. officials.
Nov. 2, 2017: The Washington Post published an article with further details about the request, citing several administration and foreign officials.