Washington Signals Openness to Dialogue, but Tehran Rebuffs 

President Trump’s Supporters and Opponents are Divided as to What Happens Next

After May’s spike in tensions between Tehran and Washington, American officials have begun to sound conciliatory notes — but Iran has so far rebuffed attempts to negotiate points of contention with the U.S., leaving President Trump’s supporters and opponents divided as to what should come next. 

On June 2, while visiting Switzerland — a country that has served as a backchannel for communications between Washington and Tehran — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a press conference that the U.S. would continue the maximum-pressure campaign against the Iranian regime. He also signaled a willingness to engage in negotiations without preconditions.  “We’re ready to sit down with them,” he said, speaking alongside Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in Bellinzona. “But the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”

Tehran’s rebuke was not long in coming. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif denounced the continuation of the sanctions campaign as “economic terrorism” and told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that direct talks with President Trump were “not very likely because talking is the continuation of the process of pressure. He is imposing pressure. This may work in a real estate market. It does not work in dealing with Iran.” The next day, Iran's hardline Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi went further: "We see that U.S. officials are begging to hold talks with Iran. This proves Supreme Leader [Khamenei's] insight and expertise."

DEMOCRATS TRIANGULATE OPPOSITION TO TRUMP, IRAN

Though generally critical of the Trump administration’s international posture, Democrats now manifest division over present Iran policies. Five of the leading presidential candidates have declared their intention to return the United States to the JCPOA, including Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris.  

According to recent reports, three former Obama administration officials who were closely involved in the negotiations over the JCPOA, including one who remains in contact with Iranian government officials, recently briefed congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill on how Iranian decision makers react to economic pressure. Mark Dubowitz, an Iran specialist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies — generally supportive of the Trump administration’s efforts at containing Iranian influence — criticized these efforts as “wrongheaded.” He said that Democrats “would be wise to tell their Iranian counterparts to return to negotiations.” 

Despite these gestures toward a more conciliatory posture toward Tehran, skepticism of Iranian intentions remains common among Democratic leaders. Last week, Representative Seth Moulton, another Presidential hopeful, described Iran as “a major threat to our national security.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand condemned Iranian “malign activities.” Senator Cory Booker declared that the United States must “be more vigilant than ever in fighting Iranian aggression.”

REPUBLICANS ALIGNED WITH ADMINISTRATION POLICY

For their part, the Republican base remains supportive of the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran. Notably, during an ongoing Republican primary in North Carolina, both candidates deferred to the President on Iranian matters: Both Dr. Joan Perry and state representative Greg Perry, each seeking to represent the 3rd District in Congress, declared that they stood the administration. Dr. Perry said she believed Trump's “misgivings were valid” about the JCPOA and that the U.S. should “cripple” Iran's ability to fund regional proxies. Greg Perry, for his part, said, “we can't allow Iran to become a nuclear power.”


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