The president made heads turn again in another press conference with a foreign leader this week. Speaking at the White House alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday, July 30, the U.S. president suggested that he was open to meeting with Iran's president. But whether Donald Trump will meet with Hassan Rouhani — and when — are still big unknowns.
"I believe in meeting," Trump said in videos of the press conference. "I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet." He cited what he viewed as successes in meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
But as for Iran, "I don't know that they're ready yet," he continued. "They're having a hard time right now. I ended the Iran deal. I do think that they'll end up wanting to meet, and I'm ready to meet any time they want to."
When a reporter followed up and asked if he had any preconditions for such a meeting, Trump said no. He reiterated that he was willing to meet at any time and added, "It's good for the country, good for them, good for us, and good for the world."
As for why the president appeared willing to meet with them, he said, "I don't do that from strength or from weakness — I think it's an appropriate thing to do."
Trump's willingness to meet with Rouhani is significant considering his recent actions — and words — that have put Iran at odds. As for what the potential meeting would consist of, Trump signaled he'd meet with Iran to "work something out that's meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other [Obama era] deal was."
The president's tone Monday was a notable change from just a week earlier, which saw an increased back-and-forth between the world leaders. On July 22, Trump sent an all-caps tweet directed at Rouhani, calling him out by name and threatening him:
NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
Trump's threat to Rouhani on Twitter was presumably responding to a speech the Iranian president had made earlier that day in Tehran, in which he said that a war with the United States would be "the mother of all wars." In his remarks, Rouhani also echoed an earlier threat to disrupt Iranian oil exports if the United States proceeded with sanctions against it.
The United States reinstated its sanctions against the country earlier this year in May, when Trump announced he was pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), informally called the "Iran nuclear deal." That deal, signed in 2015 by the U.S., U.K., China, France, Germany, and Russia, agreed to waive economic sanctions against Iran on a periodic basis so long as the country continued to refrain from developing its nuclear program.
In leaving the agreement, which was seen as a key victory of the Obama administration, Trump left the other signatories to figure out how to move forward in the absence of the United States. While some countries, such as the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Bahrain, applauded the move, it sparked further tension among others, especially after Trump also backed out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017.
Trump's willingness to meet with Iranian leaders after leaving the Obama-era JCPOA is ironic for other reasons, too. As some on Twitter pointed out, some in the Republican party attacked then-Senator Barack Obama for the same willingness to meet with world leaders, including Iran's, according to PolitiFact.
The president said that it in general, it's particularly important for leaders to meet when the stakes are high — including the potential for conflict or humanitarian crisis. It's not clear if or when such a meeting between the two leaders might take place, though. I guess we'll see if this pans out.