Trump says he didn't tap Rand Paul to serve as envoy in talks with Iran

Trump says he didn't tap Rand Paul to serve as envoy in talks with Iran
© Stefani Reynolds

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE on Thursday disputed that he asked Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Rand Paul says Trump has 'every right' to withhold Ukraine aid over corruption Paul dismisses Bevin loss, touts 'red wave' in other Kentucky races MORE (R-Ky.) to serve as an emissary to Iran following a report that he signed off on the senator's request to help smooth tensions.

“No I don’t know anything about that other than I have spoken to Sen. Paul, and Sen. Paul is somebody I have a very good relationship with,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. 

“And I would listen to him, but I didn’t appoint him, no,” he continued. “No he’s somebody I listen to, and I respect Sen. Paul and if he had some ideas I would listen.”

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Politico reported Wednesday that Paul proposed meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attempt to restart negotiations on the president's behalf, and that Trump gave the idea his approval.

Paul has been an outspoken critic of U.S. intervention in foreign conflicts, and earlier this year stressed that the Trump administration must seek approval from Congress to go to war with Iran.

But Trump on Thursday pushed back on the idea that he was planning to send an emissary to meet with Zarif, instead touting his administration's campaign of sanctions to cripple the Iranian economy.

"All we want is to have a fair deal," Trump said.

Tensions between the two sides have escalated in recent weeks and Iran has enriched uranium beyond limits placed during the Obama-era nuclear deal, which Trump derided as among the "worst" ever.

In the year since withdrawing from the pact, the Trump administration has levied sanctions on Iran's oil industry, its metals sector, its Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader in an effort to isolate the country and cripple its economy.

Still, Trump has insisted he would be open to negotiations with the Iranians and that he's not seeking regime change, but that he wants to keep the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Zarif earlier this week provided an opening for potential diplomatic relations when he suggested for the first time that the country's ballistic missile program could be up for negotiations as part of talks with the U.S.

He cautioned that Iran would exact a high price before agreeing to talks, including the end of American arms sales to Iranian foes in the region such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The country may also seek the easing of sanctions.