WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during his visit to Iran this week, is likely to propose a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in September, according to an expert.
“My understanding is that Prime Minister Abe is likely to suggest a meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September,” Ali Vaez, project director for Iran at the think tank International Crisis Group, said in a recent interview.
“I would say that can only happen if President Trump is willing to make a first concession to the Iranians as a goodwill gesture,” Vaez said, citing a possible suspension of the U.S. oil sanctions on Iran.
But the Republicans and U.S. allies in the Middle East “would really not like the president to relieve the pressure at this stage,” he added.
Abe is scheduled to visit Iran for three days from Wednesday in an effort to mediate U.S.-Iran tensions over the 2015 nuclear deal.
Vaez said he thinks Abe “stands a good chance of trying to mediate or at least . . . de-escalate tensions at this point.”
“But the challenge in front of him is really monumental,” he added.
Given Abe’s “very special relationship” with Trump, “the Iranians would also listen carefully to what he has to say,” Vaez said.
On Abe’s meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Vaez said that if he is taking a direct message from Trump, “then I think he would hear the Iranian counteroffer.”
Vaez said that “a card that the Iranians can play, which is also very close to President Trump’s heart,” is the release of U.S. prisoners in Iran. “That is potentially something that could be an icebreaker and a clear outcome of a summit between the two leaders,” he said.
According to Vaez, Trump and his national security team pursue the same strategy, which is “the maximum pressure strategy,” but have different objectives.
Trump is primarily motivated to get a better deal with Iran, whereas his national security team, especially national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are “primarily interested in bringing about either economic collapse in Iran or regime change,” he said. “And so they’re not much interested in diplomacy.”