Iran again rebuffs US talk of Trump-Rouhani meeting

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed the United States would maintain its campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2019

Iran again rebuffs US talk of Trump-Rouhani meeting

  • Two of Trump’s top lieutenants on Tuesday indicated he was ready to meet the Iranian president without preconditions
  • The Iranian envoy said any meeting must also be held in the framework of the group of major powers that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran on Wednesday rejected the possibility of a meeting between President Hassan Rouhani and US counterpart Donald Trump, after the White House signalled it was open to such an encounter.

Trump on Wednesday left open the possibility the United States could ease sanctions on Iran, adding he believes Iran wants to strike a deal with Washington on its nuclear program.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the possibility the United States would ease up on its “maximum pressure” campaign.

Two of Trump’s top lieutenants on Tuesday indicated he was ready to meet the Iranian president without preconditions, after the US leader sacked his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed the United States would maintain its campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic.

The idea of a Trump-Rouhani meeting was floated last month by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been spearheading European efforts to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the United States.

The arch-foes have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s representative at the United Nations reiterated Rouhani’s position in an interview published Wednesday by state news agency IRNA.

Majid Takht-Ravanchi said a meeting could take place only if Washington ends its “economic terrorism” by lifting all of its sanctions against Tehran.

The Iranian envoy said any meeting must also be held in the framework of the group of major powers that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal.

“As long as the US government’s economic terrorism and such cruel sanctions are imposed on the Iranian people, there is no room for negotiations,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The diplomat said Trump’s decision to dismiss Bolton — a hard-liner accused of pushing Trump toward war against Iran — was a matter for the Americans.

“The removal of John Bolton is an internal affair and we don’t take stands on domestic issues,” said Takht-Ravanchi. Asked about the impact of Bolton’s sacking on long-fraught relations between Iran and the United States, he said it was “too soon” to make any judgments.

“Whether the extremist policy of the US changes or not depends on various factors in US foreign policy,” he told ISNA. Bolton is a controversial figure closely linked to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and other aggressive US foreign policy decisions.

He had been seen as one of the main driving forces in the White House’s muscular approach to Iran, North Korea and Venezuela among others.


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”