Rand Paul pushed for Iranian diplomat to meet with Trump

: report

By Tal Axelrod - 08/02/19 09:38 PM EDT

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reportedly worked to set up an Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last month before the top Iranian diplomat was targeted by sanctions from the Trump administration.

The New Yorker reported Friday, citing U.S. and Iranian sources, that Paul and a senior adviser met with Zarif for an hourlong conversation in mid-July in New York, as the Iranian foreign minister traveled there for a United Nations summit.

Zarif reportedly offered ideas on how to reduce tensions surrounding Iran’s enrichment of uranium beyond the limits of an Obama-era nuclear pact and the country’s involvement in the bombing of oil tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Among the ideas reportedly floated was the prospect that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could issue a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding the production or use of nuclear weapon. Zarif also pitched resuming cooperation based on the 2015 nuclear agreement, from which Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018, in exchange for sanctions relief.

It was then that Paul pitched the idea of meeting with Trump to relay his suggestions, the magazine reported. U.S., Iranian and diplomatic sources told The New Yorker that Trump had authorized Paul to extend the Oval Office invite as early as that week.

A White House official declined to comment about the invitation for the magazine's report. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Trump has said that he authorized Paul to negotiate with Iran to curb tensions between Washington and Tehran, saying the Kentucky Republican asked if he could get involved.

Zarif reportedly told Paul he would have to send the idea of an Oval Office meeting up the flag pole in Tehran but expressed concern that the conversation would produce little more than a photo opportunity.

The reported moves come as tensions between the two countries have skyrocketed in recent weeks after Iran sped up its uranium enrichment, bombed the oil tankers and shot down an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone.

Trump said he had authorized a retaliatory strike in response to the drone downing but aborted the operation after learning that 150 Iranians could be killed.