RFL/RE – A top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that Iran seek a deal with the United States to ease the economic “pain” of looming sanctions.
Ali Akbar Velayati, while visiting Moscow on July 13, also rejected U.S. and Israeli demands that Iran’s military get out of Syria, saying that will happen only if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asks Iran to go.
“We have come there without the Americans’ permission and we won’t heed their demands to leave,” he said. “We coordinate the Iranian presence in Syria with Russia and Syria.”
Velayati met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syrian situation on July 12 one day after Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he called on Putin to urge Iran to leave Syria.
Israel has said it won’t accept a permanent or expanded Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria, and it has staged several deadly air strikes this year against facilities used by Iranian military advisers and fighters and allied Shi’ite militias from Lebanon and Iraq.
The United States has echoed Israel’s demands, and media have reported that Trump may seek to seal a deal with Putin at their summit in Helsinki on July 16 providing for at least a partial withdrawal of Iranian-allied fighters from areas near Israel’s border with Syria.
Velayati said that when he spoke to Russian leaders, he strongly warned them against listening to the U.S. arguments about the Iranian presence in Syria.
“I told the Russian officials: Now the Americans are telling you that the Iranians must leave Syria, and tomorrow they will ask you what you are doing in Syria,” he said. “They are trying to split our alliance.”
Velayati also dismissed Trump’s suggestion that Iranian leaders initiate direct negotiations with him to ease the mounting economic pressures on Iran from looming U.S. sanctions, which are due to take effect in November.
Trump said at a news conference in Brussels on July 12: “I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing. But I will tell you this, at a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal. They’re feeling a lot of pain right now.”
Some Iranian opposition figures and prominent expatriates have also called on Tehran to negotiate directly with Washington to resolve longstanding hostilities between the two nations. But Velayati rejected those suggestions.
“We do not want to negotiate with the Americans,” he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. “These are the people that break agreements with Iran, approved by the UN Security Council. Why would we trust them and hold negotiations with them?”
Velayati was apparently referring to Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, a move that triggered the reinstatement of U.S. sanctions.
Velayati said Tehran will simply cope with the sanctions like it has in the past. He suggested Iran will use avenues it has used in the past to evade the sanctions to receive payments for its oil exports.
The United States has brought several high-profile cases in recent years against banks and traders who helped Iran launder oil revenues through the global banking system to get around a U.S. ban against using the dollar.
“It will be hard, but we have learned how to do it,” Velayati was quoted as saying by Russian news media.
Velayati and Russian officials on July 13 did not mention Argentina’s request that Russia arrest and extradite Velayati to face charges in Buenos Aires in connection with the bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994 that killed 85 people.
The Bubble, an online Latin American news site, reported that Moscow avoided responding to the extradition request before Velayati left the country for meetings in Beijing on July 13, out of deference to Iran’s “strategic partnership” with Russia in Syria and elsewhere.
The Bubble said China, which has also received an extradition request from Argentina even though the two countries do not have an extradition treaty, is also expected to ignore the request.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Interfax