Rand Paul pushed for Iranian diplomat to meet with Trump: report

Rand Paul pushed for Iranian diplomat to meet with Trump: report
© Greg Nash

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.) reportedly worked to set up an Oval Office meeting between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last month before the top Iranian diplomat was targeted by sanctions from the Trump administration.

The New Yorker reported Friday, citing U.S. and Iranian sources, that Paul and a senior adviser met with Zarif for an hourlong conversation in mid-July in New York, as the Iranian foreign minister traveled there for a United Nations summit.

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Zarif reportedly offered ideas on how to reduce tensions surrounding Iran’s enrichment of uranium beyond the limits of an Obama-era nuclear pact and the country’s involvement in the bombing of oil tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Among the ideas reportedly floated was the prospect that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could issue a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding the production or use of nuclear weapon. Zarif also pitched resuming cooperation based on the 2015 nuclear agreement, from which Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018, in exchange for sanctions relief.

It was then that Paul pitched the idea of meeting with Trump to relay his suggestions, the magazine reported. U.S., Iranian and diplomatic sources told The New Yorker that Trump had authorized Paul to extend the Oval Office invite as early as that week.

A White House official declined to comment about the invitation for the magazine's report. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Trump has said that he authorized Paul to negotiate with Iran to curb tensions between Washington and Tehran, saying the Kentucky Republican asked if he could get involved.

Zarif reportedly told Paul he would have to send the idea of an Oval Office meeting up the flag pole in Tehran but expressed concern that the conversation would produce little more than a photo opportunity. 

The reported moves come as tensions between the two countries have skyrocketed in recent weeks after Iran sped up its uranium enrichment, bombed the oil tankers and shot down an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone.

Trump said he had authorized a retaliatory strike in response to the drone downing but aborted the operation after learning that 150 Iranians could be killed. 

The administration has slapped stringent sanctions on Iran's oil industry, metals sector, Revolutionary Guard Corps and supreme leader, which he says have crippled the country’s economy.

The administration announced this week that it was also targeting Zarif with sanctions, claiming he has "acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

"If you sanction diplomats you’ll have less diplomacy," Paul tweeted in response to the news on Wednesday.

Trump has insisted the administration remains open to negotiating with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and support for armed groups in the region, though Khamenei has likened negotiating with Washington to “poison.”

“Iran is showing their colors. Going to work out very nicely. Iran is in big trouble right now,” Trump said last month. “A lot of bad things are happening to them. It’s very easy to straighten out, or it’s very easy for us to make it a lot worse.”