Donald Trump has appointed Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky as an envoy for talks with Iran, according to Politco.
The site claims that the unusual development came on Saturday when Paul, an anti-war libertarian, broached the idea to Trump over a round of golf.
The senator said he would sit down with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to offer negotiations. Trump agreed.
Zarif is in New York City this week for UN meetings, interviews with journalists, and private discussions with think-tank analysts. He has given no indication of welcoming an approach.
In an interview on Wednesday with Bloomsberg, Zarif said about talks, “You don’t buy a horse twice.” He rebuffed claims that, in an earlier interview, he had suggested negotiations over Iran’s missile program — talks which have been sought by European countries such as France to resolve tensions over the 2015 nuclear deal.
They have misinterpreted what I said….I was very clear saying that the United States has a lot to do before it can talk about our missiles. First, implement the agreement that they first made….Then they need to start looking at where the problem is….The US is selling $50 billion [in arms] to our region. That has to stop.
But the prospect of Paul as an intermediary has unsettled Trump’s hawkish advisors who have pursued “maximum pressure” with comprehensive US sanctions to cripple Iran’s economy.
Trump has been inconsistent over the approach. Trying to undo the work of predecessor Barack Obama, he withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal last May. The sanctions were imposed in November and tightened this spring, as Iran’s official oil exports fell by 60%.
But Trump has also pursued face-to-face appearances with Iran’s leaders. He said he would give phone numbers to Tehran, and sent a message to the Supreme Leader through visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month.
Tehran scoffed at the phone number offer, and the Supreme Leader bluntly refused to accept the message from Abe. Ayatollah Khamenei — reworking Ayatollah Khomeini’s “chalice of poison” in accepting a settlement of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War — said he would not give in to “poisonous” talks with Washington.
Last month, when Trump approved but quickly vetoed airstrikes inside Iran after the Revolutionary Guards downed a US drone, Paul said on Trump’s favored outlet Fox TV, “It really takes a statesman to show restraint amidst a chorus of voices for war.”
But he has also chided the Administration over its sanctions as “an act of war”. He told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during an April hearing of a Senate committee: “You do not have the permission of Congress to go to war with Iran. Only Congress can declare war.”