Trump agrees to let Rand Paul meet with Iran in bid to reduce tensions: report

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE signed off this weekend on a proposal from Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGeorgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat Warren knocks McConnell for forcing in-person Senate vote amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Ky.) for him to serve as a liaison to Iran to try to reduce skyrocketing tensions between Washington and Tehran. 

Paul proposed sitting down with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a golf outing with Trump this past weekend, four U.S. officials told Politico. The meeting’s goal would be to discuss with Zarif on the president’s behalf the potential to calm an escalating situation between the U.S. and Iran.

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It is unclear if a meeting between Paul and Zarif is actually set. A U.S. official told The Hill only that "We’re aware of reports of a supposed meeting between a U.S. Senator and Zarif."

Zarif is in the U.S. this week for United Nations meetings and other events.

But the prospect of Paul, a staunch anti-war Republican, meeting with him reportedly rankled some administration officials who think his dovish strategy could impede the White House’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

Trump allowing Paul to move forward with trying to meet Zarif stands in contrast to his hard-line stance on Iran. The president withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era nuclear pact in 2018 and has slapped stringent sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, metals sector, Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader to maximize economic pressure.

The White House has also unleashed fiery rhetoric in past months in response to Iran’s suspected involvement in bombing two oil tankers and downing a U.S. surveillance drone. Trump confirmed that he had initiated and then called off a retaliatory strike after he said he learned 150 Iranians could be killed.

“Iran better be careful. They're treading on very dangerous territory. Iran, if you're listening, you better be careful,” Trump told reporters last week.

Paul has criticized of the administration’s sanctions regimen, saying it could be interpreted as an act of war, and has clashed with some of the president’s more hawkish advisers, including national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonChina sees chance to expand global influence amid pandemic Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe new war for soft power hegemony Organizing evacuations during a shutdown The Saudi-Russia oil fight is the last thing the economy needs in a pandemic MORE.

A Trump administration official familiar with Iran issues told Politico, “He's given up on all of us!” when told that the president had tapped someone outside the administration to reach out to Zarif.

The president has expressed openness to negotiating a new deal with Iran that would include stipulations about its nuclear arsenal as well as its missile program and aid to armed groups throughout the region. Iranian officials have not expressed similar interest, however, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comparing negotiating with the U.S. to drinking “poison.”

The U.S. official sought to pour cold water on the results from a possible Paul-Zarif meeting, saying it sees no signals from Tehran it wants to talk.
 
"It’s unclear how productive a conversation with Zarif would be given his limited role in making decisions on behalf of the Iranian regime. The President has said several times that he is willing to talk with Iran. However, the regime has shown no signs they’re ready to meet diplomacy with diplomacy," the official told The Hill.