Iran’s president has back-pedalled on possible talks with Donald Trump and now says the US president must first lift sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that otherwise a meeting between the two would be just a photo op and “that is not possible”.

Rouhani’s change of heart came a day after Trump said there was a good chance the two leaders could meet after a surprise intervention by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, during the G7 summit in Biarritz to try to bring Washington and Tehran together.

In a televised address, Rouhani said that “without the US’s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development”. He added that Washington “holds the key”.

On Monday, Rouhani had expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis following America’s pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal and subsequent reimposition of biting sanctions. Trump also said he would be ready to meet if the conditions were right.

He did not specify what those conditions would be, but agreed it would be realistic to expect a meeting in the coming weeks. The Iranian and US presidents are both due to attend the UN general assembly in New York in mid-September.

Macron touted the possibility of a US-Iranian summit as a consequence of a French diplomatic initiative aimed at defusing rising tensions after Trump’s decision last year to leave the deal.

He did not give details of the negotiations, but French officials said they involved a partial rollback of US sanctions and full Iranian compliance with the 2015 deal in order to pave the way for a resumption of high level US-Iranian diplomacy.

Macron said the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had flown to Paris on Friday to outline Iran’s negotiating position. After speaking to Trump and the other G7 leaders at a dinner on Saturday night, the French president decided there was enough convergence to invite Zarif to Biarritz for further talks.

“Through this coordination we took an initiative yesterday to bring back the Iranian foreign minister and many exchanges with the French ministers which has allowed us to sketch a path,” Macron said. “Nothing is certain and it is still extremely fragile, but there have been discussions on a technical level with some real progress.”

France has been spearheading an effort to stop a drift towards tension and conflict in the Gulf following Trump’s decision in May 2018 to pull the US out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose heavy sanctions culminating in an oil embargo. In response, Iran has begun to break out of some the restrictions on its nuclear programme imposed in the nuclear deal.

The French proposal is for the US to roll back some of its “maximum pressure” campaign and for Iran to return to full compliance with the agreement, allowing space for further talks on non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s missile programme and its role in regional conflicts.


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