In what I suppose we can euphemistically call “progress”, Hassan Rouhani didn’t call Donald Trump “mentally retarded” on Tuesday (as he did in June when Washington sanctioned Iran’s foreign minister and then claimed to be interested in dialogue), but the Iranian president’s rhetoric wasn’t exactly “warm” either.
A day after Trump said he’d be open to meeting with Iran’s leadership under the “right circumstances”, Rouhani delivered an address carried on state television.
“We are interested in solving problems in a reasonable way, but we’re not interested in taking photos”, Rouhani said, echoing comments made by Javad Zarif who, while in New York last month, insisted “it’s not about photo ops. We are interested in substance”.
In his Tuesday remarks, Rouhani drove the point home. “If someone wants to have their photo taken with Hassan Rouhani, it’s not possible”, he reportedly said, before qualifying that statement. “It’s possible to do it with Photoshop”.
Rouhani shouldn’t underestimate Trump, who wouldn’t be above simply having an aide Photoshop a picture of the two men and posting it to Twitter. After all, we’re talking about a US president who got into a Game of Thrones meme war with arguably the most dangerous man on planet Earth last year.
“Washington has the key for positive change. So take the first step”, Rouhani urged. “Without this step, this lock will not be unlocked”.
He went on to say that Iran isn’t looking for trouble and would like to have a good relationship with other countries (exceptions may apply), but will “continue to scale back commitments under the 2015 deal if our interests are not guaranteed”.
On Monday, in an interview carried by Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Zarif reiterated that Tehran wants the European powers to facilitate sales of Iranian crude. Trump expressed an openness to extending a line of credit to Iran secured by the country’s oil. How that’s any different from simply letting them sell oil is anyone’s guess.
Really, though, none of this matters. The only person whose opinion counts is Ayatollah Khamenei. Suffice to say he’s a tough nut to crack.