Might Donald Trump going to visit Tehran and crack a deal with Iran? It might seem improbable. But then again, there isn’t much with Trump that doesn’t. This is the fellow who ended up at the border with North Korea, playing kissy-face with Kim Jong-un after having breathed voluminous amounts of fire and fury.
When I raised this question of a fresh Trump volte-face yesterday in New York at the ambassador’s palatial residence on Fifth Avenue with Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif in an interview for the National Interest, he thus didn’t bat an eye. ‘There are prudent ways out,’ of his current situation, he indicated.
Indeed there are. Iran is floating the idea of beefed-up inspections in return for a permanent lifting of sanctions. National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of state Mike Pompeo will bridle at the proposal. But it suggests there is some flexibility on the Iranian side. Tehran knows that Trump might be in power for a second term. Best to cut a deal with him now, some of the Ayatollahs may think, before an emboldened Trump emerges after a triumphant reelection campaign, intent on showing who is whom in the Middle East.
For now, it seems clear that Trump, as much as Iran, is disinclined to embark upon a conflict. Entering upon a war would be electoral suicide after Trump ran on the promise to extricate America from the Middle East. Once it began, Trump, much like Kaiser Wilhelm in World War One, would be sidelined by the generals. What’s more, the idea of a quick and tidy war would be a fresh mirage, particularly given that Iran is far more powerful militarily than was Iraq in 2003.
The Pentagon is dispatching some 500 soldiers to Saudi Arabia but that is a purely symbolic move, one that Zarif dismisses to me with the wave of a hand. Trump is clearly looking for an interlocutor who can bypass the deadly duo of Bolton and Pompeo. The name of Sen. Rand Paul was floated before Trump publicly retreated. But Zarif has made it plain that he is reaching out.
If anyone could break the cycle of mistrust with Iran, it’s Trump. The loyalty — no, blind faith — that he commands from his followers means that Fox News and other Republican command posts would quickly fall into line. Anyway, at least one major conservative at Fox has broken with the old orthodoxy on the right. Tucker Carlson has already gotten Trump to back off from a military attack in June. Maybe he can prevail on Trump to once more ignore his advisers and treat with the mullahs.