President Donald Trump will sit down with Iranian leaders – but they do not share their eagerness to speak and reveal the boundaries of the president's personal diplomatic overtures.
While another opponent, North Korea, has come to the table for one-on-one with Trump, tehran replied on Sunday at Trump's combination of arguments and financial penalties with provocation
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Iranian officials said they would begin to enrich uranium across borders within a few hours, according to an international internship onal nuclear agreement in 2015, the latest in a number of potentially fatal years in the agreement. They also said that Iran would continue to reduce compliance with the agreement every 60 days unless the world power protects it from the sanctions that Trump reimposed after discontinuing the agreement last year.
"We are fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount," said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, according to media reports.
It is an approach that has left the two countries at risk of a possible military confrontation.
But Iran's movements are a calculated gamble, officials and analysts said – an attempt to both fight Trump and push European leaders trying to save the nuclear deal to stand up to the United States. The Iranians can also bet that Trump, who has shown little appetite for war, will fold first and lift sanctions in exchange for negotiations.
Iran is "test limits for measuring the response from the United States and other key stakeholders," said Suzanne Maloney, an Iranian researcher at the Brookings Institution. "It is a very effective way of trying to read a US US administration and give greater urgency among the other parties to the agreement."
An American official who is aware of the problem told POLITICO on Sunday that the Trump team hopes for three things: that Europe imposes some sanctions on Iran to keep it from further violating the agreement; that a financial mechanism created by Europeans to help Iran achieve non-sanctioned goods and that recent US military maneuvers in the Middle East are enough to deter Iran from further military escalation.
"Basically, we want them to stay in the deal," said the US official when asked why the Trump administration wants the European financial mechanism, known as INSTEX, to work. There is no desire to engage in an all-out war with Iran or see it build a nuclear weapon, the official said.
Both Iran and North Korea have confronted Trump's rage over their nuclear programs, including his imposition of serious sanctions. But while North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who already has nuclear weapons, has accepted negotiations, Iran's Islamist rulers, who lack Nukes, are not willing to speak to Trump.
The reasons are many. Iran has an anti-us. The ideology forged during a revolution 40 years ago – its leaders rarely respond to insults and threats from a country they call the "great Satan". And, unlike North Korea, where Kim reckons an iron knight, Iran has competing political power centers, even if chief executive Ali Khamenei technically has the last word.
In addition, Tehran is still getting away from Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Nuclear Power Agreement in 2015. There is also long-standing suspicion in Tehran that the Trump administration really wants to remove the Iranian regime – not just change its behavior .
On the other hand, Kim can see more use in talking to Trump than walking on him, even though the couple acted on heated rhetoric barbs in 2017. The 30-something dictator may be willing to try the negotiation route because he has already built a nuclear arsenal and is less concerned about an American attack.
Kim's goal, some analysts say, is to improve his country's economy and strengthen his rule by convincing Trump to remove sanctions. Kim can bet that he can convince Trump to at least offer some relief for limited nuclear-related promises from his side.
Meanwhile, Iran insists that it does not want to build a nuclear weapon. The oil-rich country has always said that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as generating energy. But there is always the possibility that Trump's will to sit down with Kim could lead Iran to decide that it should have a nuclear weapon for longer-term leverage.
However, any such movement from Iran could have immediate consequences, including a new Middle East war or a nuclear weapon race. American Allies in the Middle East – especially Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – love to see Iran become a nuclear state. Israel has even suggested it would start a preventive strike to keep Iran developing a nuclear weapon.
The possibility of a military confrontation is already high in the Middle East following a series of attacks on international oil tankers that the US is blaming Iran. The United States has sent hundreds more troops to the region as a hedge against Tehran.
For some Iranian guards Tehran fails by not talking to Trump now.
"Iran's Chief Ali Ali Khamenei would be smart to follow Kim's approach," said Mark Dubowitz of the Hawk Fund for Democratic Defense, who generally supports Trump's tough policies against Iran. "Centuries of anticipation could await him if he set aside decades of anti-Americanism and met Trump at a summit."
But for others, Iran's reticence is predictable. "You can't overcome some aspects of the revolutionary ideology still in Iran today," said Maloney. Unlike North Korea's Kim, "Iranians complicate their own path by being incapable of that kind of heroic flexibility."
In all cases, comparisons between the two countries can only go so far. "They are suis generis . They are very different," said a former top official of the Obama administration. "They look at each other even though they do."
Trump has repeatedly made it clear that he would rather talk to Iran than to fight.
He called off a military strike on Iran at the last minute last month after it shot down an American drone, has promised the country economic wealth if it bends to his demands and has quite literally called on Iran to "call me" . President and State Secretary Mike Pompeo has even said that the United States is willing to speak to Iran without any preconditions.
It is also clear that Trump cares that a war with Iran would harm him with his Republican election base during the 2020 elections. He ran for the office and promised to pull the US out of the Middle East.
But as he often has, Trump has undermined himself by being inconsistent. He has threatened to "wipe out" Iran, spoiled the US troop presence in the Middle East and sanctioned Khamenei. The Trump administration has also threatened to sanction Iran's Foreign Minister, a move that would further undermine a shot at diplomacy.
Last week, as it became clear, Iran would move towards greater enrichment of uranium, trump tweeted: "Beware of the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you as no one has been bitten before!"  Trump has said that the 2015 nuclear power agreement was not long enough, and that it should have covered Iran's many worrying non-nuclear activities. However, he further confuses the situation by saying that he merely wants Iran to abandon any path to nuclear weapons. At other times, he has said he also wants Iran to stop funding for "terrorist" groups.
Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, has repeatedly rejected the opportunity to speak to Trump. The country's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently said that Iran will not bend for anyone's threats.
"We will not indulge in international pressure and with the world's population," he said according to media reports. "We will get them to talk to Iran's people with respect for respect and never threaten an Iranian."
Trump originally followed a fierce approach with North Korea before turning to personal diplomacy. He threatened Kim with "fire and rage," imposing sanctions on his regime, and boasting that his nuclear button was "bigger" than autocrats. Kim reacted with insults and called Trump a "dotard".
Finally, Kim and Trump met and then have showered each other with praise. At their first summit, in 2018 in Singapore, the couple signed a vague joint statement saying they were required to know about nuclearization.
Another summit in Vietnam earlier this year ended early, as neither party would accept each other's conditions for a more substantive nuclear agreement. The two met at the end of June in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.
It is too early to know whether diplomacy in the DMZ will kick off with the delayed nuclear negotiations, and to date, Kim has not taken any serious steps towards reducing his nuclear arsenal. But if Kim goes away with a bargain, Iranian leaders can reconsider talking to Trump.
But the odds are that the Iranian government prefers to wait and hopes that Trump will not be re-elected by 2020. It would be easier for Khamenei to agree to speak to a new US president than to deal with a man who tore up the last deal, the Iranian leader struck with America.
However, in view of the damage done to the Iranian economy by threatened sanctions, Iran may have little choice but to speak to him if he is re-elected. Iranians, however, still have to insist that the United States offer some kind of concession before the negotiations can take place, such as. Partial sanctions.
"Risking to meet Trump now while you are pretty sure nothing in substance would come, it is to make yourself look small at home in front of your own people when you have said that this man is not worth talk to, "said Alex Vatanka, an Iranian specialist and senior member of the Middle East Institute.