French President Emmanuel Macron has said that conditions were now in place for the leaders of the United States and Iran to meet at the United Nations, but it remained their decision on whether to move forward.
“I believe that the conditions in this context for a rapid return to negotiations have been created,” Macron told reporters on Tuesday after holding separate meetings with US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“There is a common intent to progress and to not just find the terms of a de-escalation, but to build a long-term accord,” he said.
“But it depends on the will of both sides.”
Macron has been pressing for a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis, meeting Rouhani twice in the last two days, and previously offering economic incentives aimed at coaxing the Iranian leader to meet with Trump.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from the UN, said there had been a flurry of diplomatic initiatives by world leaders to make what would be an historic meeting possible.
But Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also declared that Iran was responsible for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities earlier this month, in a move that could jeopardise any rapprochement.
The joint statement, issued on Monday, only managed to anger Iranian leaders, with Rouhani dismissing it as “unsubstantiated accusations”.
The response by Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was even more heated, calling the announcement “highly destructive and provocative”.
It added that such “irresponsible” remarks could set a “dangerous trend” in the region.
Despite the sharp rhetoric, Rouhani held separate talks with the leaders of the three nations on Tuesday at UN headquarters.
But he remained firm in his demand that the US must first lift the tough sanctions imposed on Iran before he will agree to a meeting with Trump.
Earlier, he had indicated that he would not meet Trump for the sake of a “photo opportunity”, without getting a commitment for the US to lift the sanctions.
In an interview with CNN, Rouhani’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Iran would be prepared to sign an agreement with the US allowing more intrusive inspections in exchange for Trump lifting sanctions and the US Congress ratifying the deal.
On Tuesday, Macron was asked whether he thought Trump and Rouhani could still meet this week, and he said the two leaders should not miss the chance.
“I don’t think in the coming weeks and months there will be an opportunity for him [Rouhani] to come back to the US, and I don’t think President Trump will be going to Tehran,” he said.
“It’s a physical opportunity to seize because I think the best way to start a negotiation is to have a meeting, have a frank discussion between the two main protagonists,” Macron said.
In his speech earlier on Monday, Trump gave no indication that he was planning to ease the “maximum pressure” policy his administration has employed towards Tehran.
“As long as Iran’s menacing behaviour continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened,” Trump told the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
“All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidise Iran’s bloodlust,” he said.