Pompeo backs Trump meeting with Iranian leaders

Secretary of State tells CNBC he is on board with Trump's declaration that he would sit down and talk with Iranian leaders.

Elad Benari,

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Monday that he is on board with President Donald Trump's earlier declaration that he would sit down and talk with Iranian leaders.

The interview came two hours after Trump said during a press conference with Italy's prime minister that he would meet with Iran's leaders, without pre-conditions, "anytime they want."

"We've said this before," Pompeo said. The "president wants to meet with folks to solve problems. If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, can agree that it's worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he's prepared to sit down and have the conversation with them."

Trump’s statement on Monday marked a turnaround from his previous comments. Last week, he warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Twitter not to threaten the United States again.

Before Trump’s tweet, Rouhani had warned the United States not to "play with the lion's tail", saying that conflict with Iran would be the "mother of all wars".

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, later responded to Trump with a tweet of his own, writing, “Color us unimpressed: The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago. And Iranians have heard them —albeit more civilized ones—for 40 yrs. We’ve been around for millennia and seen fall of empires, incl our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries. Be cautious!”

Trump later appeared to soften his rhetoric when he kept open the possibility of negotiating an agreement to denuclearize Iran.

Tensions have heightened between the U.S. and Iran in recent months, after Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal, under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear program.

Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from November 4 or face financial measures.

Earlier this month, Rouhani's chief of staff claimed that Iran rejected eight requests by the Trump administration to hold meetings between the nations' leaders on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting last year.

Asked about the claim, Pompeo said he would not speak about private conversations that may or may not have taken place.