President Donald Trump frequently “goes off script,” and his impromptu remarks tend to send the media into a frenzy.
Last week’s White House press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was such an occasion. When Trump was asked by a reporter if he’d be willing to talk with Iran’s leadership without preconditions, he said, “If they want to meet, we’ll meet.”
The statement set off alarms worldwide. Despite Israel’s renowned intelligence skills, the international media claimed the remark both caught off guard and distressed Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu.
But an anonymous Israeli official said the next day that the Trump administration assured Israel there has been no change in the U.S.’s tough stance on Iran sanctions, which took full effect on Monday (August 6).
Meanwhile, Iran is having a public internal debate about the wisdom of such a meeting.
The Jerusalem Post published a tweet by Hamid Aboutalebi, adviser to Iran’s President Rouhani: “Respecting the Iranian nation's rights, reducing hostilities and returning to the nuclear deal are steps that can be taken to pave the bumpy road of talks between Iran and America.”
The Times of Israel reported that Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a senior cleric and member of Iran’s Expediency Council, said Iran should contemplate Trump’s gesture while cautioning, “We should not rejoice over this offer and not get excited.”
Iran’s conservative Fars News quoted lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian: “If this negotiation [is] carried out in any form, then it will be considered as surrender, and the Iranian nation will not surrender,” he said.
These are 21st century negotiation tactics.
The Timeline Reveals a Coordinated Strategy
If you look at a timeline, you could conclude that President Trump’s “impromptu” remark was a carefully planned part of diplomatic strategy between Israel and the U.S.
- President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have met several times with Benjamin Netanyahu and others since Trump’s election.
- Netanyahu has praised Trump for his courageous dealings with Iran and for rejecting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
- Both Netanyahu and Trump have met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regarding a de-escalation of tensions with Iran.
- Russia and the U.S. have agreed to help protect Israel’s borders from Iran and Hezbollah aggression.
- Secret meetings began in June that placed Oman as mediator between the U.S. and Iran.
The Debka File website reported that Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on July 2 instructed his Foreign Minister Muhammed Javad Zarif to approach Oman to discuss ways to “escape from the tough U.S. sanctions clamped down on Iran. Khamenei’s advisers warned him that the full weight of those penalties was scheduled to fall in August, plus a U.S. ban on Iran’s oil exports in November, would bring the Tehran regime to breaking-point.”
Three weeks after Khamenei’s inquiry, on July 29, the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis received the Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the Pentagon. Debka File said the Omani minister reported to Mattis that “the Iranian minister had asked Oman, at Khamenei’s behest, to undertake the role of go-between with Washington.”
The week after that Omani meeting, President Trump, “gave Mattis the green light to ask the Omani foreign minister to reopen an indirect channel to Tehran, thus repeating the secret diplomacy pattern used by his predecessor for dealing with the Islamic Republic,” Debka File reported.
Oman was the mediator for the nuclear deal with Iran – from which President Trump walked away.
With Israel’s sophisticated intelligence, it’s hard to believe Jerusalem wasn’t fully aware of these comings and goings. Add to that the relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and it’s much easier to conclude that Trump’s “off-handed” remark was, in reality, a strategic move that Israel expected to occur eventually – if not last week in a press conference.
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