President Donald Trump painted an optimistic view of the prospects for diplomacy with Iran on Tuesday after his top diplomat suggested Tehran was willing to discuss their ballistic missile program but it remains unclear how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to that conclusion.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus couldn’t clarify what Pompeo’s comments were based on, saying, “I think he was responding” to a media report that Iran subsequently appeared to reject.
Speaking at the White House, Trump said “a lot of progress” has been made and Pompeo claimed Iran is open to negotiations over its ballistic missile program.
“For the first time, the Iranians have said that they’re prepared to negotiate about their missile program,” Pompeo said, adding the news came within the past several days. “We’ll have this opportunity to negotiate a deal that will actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
Trump echoed that outlook, saying the US wants to help Iran and not oust its current leadership.
“A lot of progress has been made. They’d like to talk. And we’ll see what happens but a lot of progress has been made,” he said.
“We want to help them. We’ll be good to them,” Trump added. “We’ll help them in any way we can. But they can’t have a nuclear weapon.”
Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, though, appeared to push back on one report from the Associated Press based off comments Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad made to NBC News, shortly after Pompeo and Trump made their remarks, fueling confusion over the situation Tuesday.
“We categorically reject the AP’s characterization of Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments to NBC News that ‘if the US wants to talk about missiles, it should stop selling weapons, including missiles, to regional states’ as meaning that Iran is willing to negotiate on its defensive missile program at some point. Iran’s missiles and its missiles are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period,” the mission said in a statement.
“Surely AP reporters are familiar enough with conversational English to know and understand and are able to contextualize comments on the hypothetical, as well as parrying with words to make a point. Drawing a false conclusion in pursuit of headlines, when what was said in the context was obvious, only leads to a diminution of the standing of the press with the public,” the statement said.
The Iranian Mission referred CNN to that same statement when asked for a response to the comments from Trump and Pompeo.
In those remarks, Trump also said the United States was not looking for regime change; instead, he said he wanted to see the country end its malign influence in the region and withdraw its proxy forces from Yemen.
The President claimed he had asked former Secretary of State John Kerry “through people” why the previous administration did not insist Iran leave Yemen, and was told it was “too complicated.”
US oil prices tumbled on Tuesday after Pompeo hinted at thawing tensions between the US and Iran despite Tehran’s rejection of the way Zarif’s comments were characterized.
Crude plunged 4% to as low as $57.07 a barrel after Pompeo’s comments.
Any progress between the US and Iran could ease fears of a military conflict that could sidelines supplies near the Strait of Hormuz, the vital oil choke point in the Middle East. Attacks on oil tankers have lifted oil prices in recent weeks.
Secondly, cooling tensions could raise the chances that the Trump administration’s punishing sanctions on Iran eventually get lifted. Those sanctions have sidelined hundreds of thousands of barrels of Iranian oil, putting some pressure on supply.
“Any bearish news like this is helping to spur on a strong sell off,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData, an energy firm.
OPEC has attempted to boost oil prices by extending production cuts. However, last week the cartel warned of a new supply glut in 2020 caused by weaker demand and record-setting output from the US shale oil boom.
The US Energy Information Administration recently dimmed its view on oil demand due to worries about slowing economic growth.
“There are signs of demand slowing. The economic backdrop is still kind of weak,” said Smith.