Iran has shrugged off US President Donald Trumpâ€™s attemptÂ to engage the Islamic Republic into new talks with his administration for a â€œbig dealâ€ by renegotiating the nuclear accord signed during the term of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
TrumpÂ made theÂ offerÂ after the two sides implemented their latest prisoner swap deal June 4. The US president expressed his gratitude to the Iranian side for releasing US Navy veteran Michael WhiteÂ in an exchange that also saw Iranian Dr. Majid Taheri freed from US custody.
“Don’t wait until after US Election â€¦ I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!” Trump tweeted, once again suggesting that the Obama-era agreement, which he has slammed as the worst deal in US historyÂ and scrapped in 2018, needs to be restructured from scratch.
In response, Iranâ€™s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the architect of the original nuclear deal â€” known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) â€” made it clear that the Iranian position remains unchanged. Zarif threw the ball into Trumpâ€™s court to â€œfixâ€ the accord by reinstating rather than renegotiating it. â€œWe had a deal when you entered office. â€¦ Your advisors â€” most fired by now â€” made a dumb bet.â€ TheÂ top Iranian diplomat also stressed that the prisoner swap was a humanitarian deal achieved despite efforts by Trumpâ€™s â€œsubordinatesâ€ to block it.
A hard-line media outlet run by Iranâ€™s state-funded broadcaster attributed Trumpâ€™s move to his failure to addressÂ multiple crises at home and abroad, arguing that â€œhe is now resorting to negotiations with Iran â€¦ which may come to his rescue.â€
In the past two years, the US president hasÂ made similar overtures to Tehran, all dismissed by the Iranian leadership. Trump has also tried mediation, most notably through Japanâ€™s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose message delivered in TehranÂ was rejectedÂ by Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On several occasions since, Khamenei has asserted that a breakthrough with the current US administration is impossible.
Nevertheless, a tweet from the Iranian supreme leaderÂ last month suggested thatÂ he might be rethinking his rigidÂ policy. Khamenei lauded the â€œbraveryâ€ and â€œsacrificesâ€ by a holy Shiite figure who â€œgave in to peaceâ€ with his enemies for the sake of â€œexpediency.â€Â The message has been interpreted as preparation forÂ moreÂ â€œheroic flexibility,â€ aÂ notion Khamenei introduced in 2013. It served as the green light for Iranian negotiators to engage with Western powers includingÂ the United States inÂ talks that culminated in the JCPOA in 2015.
Iranâ€™s Thursday confirmationÂ of the American prisonerâ€™s release ended speculationÂ that had gained momentum after Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari was seen greeting his family at Tehranâ€™s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Both Iran and the United StatesÂ have deniedÂ that Asgariâ€™s release had anything to do with that of Michael White.
Iranâ€™s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas MousaviÂ insistedÂ that White was flown home in exchange for Taheri. The Iranian official also appeared to suggest that Whiteâ€™s release was not aÂ swap and occurred only after he â€œmanaged to obtain the consent of the private plaintiffs â€¦ And as for other charges, he was treated with Islamic compassion,â€ a term recurrently used by Iranian officials in reference to parole granted to some prisoners.
The explanation was also reminiscent of the Iranian judiciaryâ€™s statements following the release last June of Lebanese national and US green card holder Nizar Zakka. Back in Beirut, however, Zakka infuriated Iranian authorities by denying their side of the storyÂ and recountingÂ mistreatment he said he had sufferedÂ while serving time in Iran.