President Donald Trump said he wants to conduct a summit with another controversial leader — this time with Iran. Such a summit would be historic because President Obama never met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. In fact, since the Iranian revolution, no American president has attended an in-person meeting with an Iranian president, according to Slate.
Former President Barack Obama’s time in office overlapped with two Iranian presidents: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani. During much of his first term, Obama’s relationship with Iran under then-President Ahmadinejad was characterized as “strained,” according to NPR. Ahmadinejad left the presidency after two terms in August 2013.
Shortly thereafter, Obama’s relationship with Iran shifted. On September 27, 2013, Obama spoke with Rouhani by telephone. This was the first time leaders of both countries had spoken directly since 1979, according to CNN.
“While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution,” Obama said at the time. This conversation opened the journey to Obama’s Iran Deal that was worked out in July 2015.
The same week the two men spoke, Rouhani visited the United Nations General Assembly in New York. There were rumors that Obama and Rouhani would meet in person, but a meeting never happened on that trip, NBC News reported.
Trump’s announcement about a potential meeting with Rouhani was spontaneously announced during a press conference on Monday with the prime minister of Italy. Trump told reporters that there would be “no preconditions” to such a meeting. “I’d meet with anybody. I believe in meetings,” Trump told reporters, according to BBC.
The comments were a bit unexpected as Trump sent an all-caps tweet to Rouhani on July 22, warning him to never threaten the United States.
Trump’s relationship with Iran was first strained when he announced the United States was leaving the Iran nuclear deal in May, according to The New York Times. “This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump announced from the White House. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”
Trump’s comments since he took office haven’t escaped the notice of Iranian officials. Rouhani’s adviser Hamid Aboutalebi tweeted shortly after Trump’s comments about a “no preconditions” meeting. He wrote that Trump should be “returning to the nuclear deal” to respect Iran, according to BBC.
Another Iranian official said on Monday that the United States is “totally unreliable,” according to Iranian state media. “With current America and these policies, there will definitely not be the possibility of dialogue and engagement, and the United States has shown that it is totally unreliable,” said Bahram Qassemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson.
Another official, Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, said Trump’s comments weren’t worth responding to, according to the New York Post. “It is beneath the dignity of our president to respond to you. I, as a soldier, respond to you,” Suleimani said via Iran state-run media. “You threaten us with an action that is ‘unprecedented’ in the world. This is cabaret-style rhetoric. Only a cabaret owner talks to the world this way.”