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WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday expressed his willingness to meet with the leaders of Iran with “no preconditions.” Trump made the comments during a joint press conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
“No preconditions. No. They want to meet, I’ll meet anytime they want — anytime they want. Good for the country, good for them, good for us, and good for the world,” Trump said, without indicating whether preliminary preparations for a meeting have begun.
Trump noted that he ended the Iran nuclear deal that had been reached in 2015 during the presidency of Barack Obama. He described that agreement as “ridiculous” and said he would engage in future discussions only if they were focused on a more “meaningful” result.
“I don’t do that from strength or from weakness. I think it’s an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that’s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet,” Trump said.
In May, Trump withdrew from the deal, which aimed to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and gave weapons inspectors access to its facilities. Israeli officials, who lobbied the U.S. to terminate the agreement, have said Iran was running a covert weapons program in spite of the deal.
Earlier during his appearance with Conte, Trump said he and the Italian leader agreed that the “brutal regime in Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.”
Conte was sworn in last month as the head of a government in Italy made up of the country’s right-wing and populist parties. The Italian government has expressed support for crackdowns on illegal immigration in the country and has strengthened its ties with Russia, two positions looked upon favorably by Trump. During their appearance on Monday, Trump called Conte his “new friend.”
“We got along very well right from the beginning,” Trump said of Conte.
As Trump discussed the possibility of meeting with Iran, he stressed that in general, he is eager to meet with other leaders.
“I’d meet with anybody. I believe in meeting,” Trump said, adding, “Speaking to other people, especially when you’re talking about potentials of war, and death, and famine, and other things — you meet. There’s nothing wrong with meeting.”
Trump pointed to his recent meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin as evidence of what can be gained from talks. While critics have pointed out that Trump’s meeting with Kim did not result in a concrete agreement on that country’s nuclear weapons program, the president said there have not been missile tests since he began talks and that North Korea had returned some remains of American soldiers who died in the Korean War. Trump’s meeting with Putin sparked widespread outrage because the president didn’t publicly challenge his Russian counterpart on the Kremlin’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. election. In spite of this, on Monday, Trump insisted his meeting with Putin had been positive.
“I had a great meeting, in my opinion. Of course, the fake news didn’t cover it that way, but I had a great meeting with President Putin of Russia. It was a great meeting,” Trump said.
Obama was widely derided by conservative critics for saying during the 2008 presidential campaign that he would meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without preconditions.
In an interview with CNBC after Trump’s press conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he supported the idea of meeting with Iran. However, Pompeo presented a long list of preconditions.
“The president wants to meet with folks to solve problems. If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president has said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with them,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo would not address Iranian claims that it had rebuffed eight separate requests from the White House for a meeting with Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly last year.
“I’m not going to speak about private conversations that may have been had or may not have been had,” Pompeo said.
Joint press conferences like the one Trump had with Conte on Monday typically feature four questions, with each leader choosing two members of their country’s press corps. Trump has generally avoided solo press conferences where he would be subject to a wider range of questions.
The president’s appearance with Conte notably did not feature any questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and whether Trump’s campaign team cooperated with these efforts. This lack of questions came in spite of the fact that on Sunday, Trump tweeted new accusations, saying that Mueller has unspecified “conflicts of interest.” Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani also spent the weekend attacking Michael Cohen, a former longtime Trump lawyer who is a focus of Mueller’s probe and has begun providing information about the president to the media.
Along with the question about meeting with Iran, the only other American outlet allowed to participate in Trump’s press conference with Conte was the Daily Caller, a conservative website. The Daily Caller reporter asked Trump to “follow up” on a comment that he made earlier in the event, when the president said would “have no problem doing a shutdown” if Congress does not reach an immigration deal that includes funding for a border wall. Trump also called America the “laughingstock of the world” because of what the president described as “the worst immigration laws.” Trump also reiterated his shutdown threat, though he did not specify his desired timeline.
“I would certainly be willing to close it down,” Trump said.
As Trump and Conte departed, the president ignored shouted questions about Mueller and Cohen.
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