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Trump ‘discussed easing Iran sanctions to help secure meeting with Rouhani’

President Donald Trump discussed easing sanctions on Iran to help secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly gathering in New York later this month, Bloomberg reported on September 11.

John Bolton, the ultra-hawkish national security advisor whom Trump fired over wide policy differences on September 10 (although Bolton says he resigned) reportedly argued forcefully against any such easing up of Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced his support for it. When asked by reporters at the White House on September 11 about the possibility of the US reducing its “maximum pressure” strategy, Trump responded, “We’ll see what happens.”

It would seem that a very major concession from Trump to the Iranians would be needed to even make them consider a meeting between the presidents in the week of the UN gathering, which starts on September 23. In the past couple of weeks, Iranian leaders have very publicly spurned the idea of such an encounter, saying Tehran would only consider talking to the US in a multilateral format and that would only be countenanced once all sanctions that undermine the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers had been withdrawn.

France’s Emmanuel Macron has been working to bring the US and Iran together, but his plan to ease the path to negotiations by providing Iran with oil-guaranteed credit lines worth $15bn was hardly given a hearing by Trump administration officials. Whether such attitudes might soften now that Bolton is out of the picture remains to be seen.

“Bolton made sure to block any and all avenues for diplomacy w/ Iran, including a plan being brokered by Macron,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said on Twitter. “The French are offering Trump a face-saving way out a mess of his creation. He should grab it.”

Iran has described the US sanctions assault on its economy as an “economic war” with elements of “economic terrorism”. Its battle to keep up a respectable level of oil exports in the face of sanctions deployed by Washington in an effort at driving all such Iranian consignments off world markets has turned into an intense battle on the grey market, with Iranian tankers turning off their location beacons and indulging in shadowy ship to ship transfers of crude. The US plan is to wreck the Iranian economy to the point that the Iranians agree a new nuclear deal that will impose tougher conditions on their nuclear development programme, strict limits on their ballistic missile programme and rule out support for militias in the Middle East that are variously the enemies of Israel and Arab nation allies of the Americans.

Responding to the news of Bolton leaving the Trump administration, Rouhani urged the US “to put warmongers aside”. On his website he added that the Americans should “abandon warmongering and the maximum pressure policy”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, meanwhile slammed the US for ordering new sanctions on his country despite the departure of “warmonger-in-chief” Bolton.

“As the world ... was breathing a sigh of relief over ouster of #B_Team’s henchman in the White House, [Washington] declared further escalation of #EconomicTerrorism [sanctions] against Iran,” Zarif tweeted. “Thirst for war—maximum pressure—should go with the warmonger-in-chief.”

Zarif has often said that a so-called “B-team” including Bolton could goad Trump into a military conflict with Tehran.