President Donald Trump announced Monday that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “without preconditions.”
Former President Barack Obama made a similar statement in 2007 and was sharply criticized for it by many on the right, including Trump's current national security adviser, John Bolton, who called the idea “naive” and “a dangerous approach.”
What did Trump say?
During a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Trump said that he would “certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet.”
“I'll meet with anybody, I believe in meeting," he said.
When asked if there would be any preconditions to a meeting with Iran's leadership, Trump said, “No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet. Any time they want.”
He added that such a meeting would not be “the waste of paper that the other [Iran nuclear] deal was” and would be “good for the country — good for them, good for us, and good for the world.”
What did Obama say in 2007?
During a Democratic primary debate with Hillary Clinton in 2007, Obama was asked whether he would meet with “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea” “without precondition.”
“I would,” Obama replied. “And the reason is this: that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this [George W. Bush] administration is ridiculous. Now, Ronald Reagan, and Democratic presidents like JFK, constantly spoke to [the] Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an 'evil empire.' And the reason is that they understood that we may not trust them, they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we have the obligation to find areas where we could potentially move forward. And I think that it's a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.”
How did Republicans respond to Obama's statement at the time?
After Obama's comment, a number of Republican politicians publicly bashed his foreign policy stance. Among them was Bolton, Trump's national security adviser.
On Hugh Hewitt's radio show on May 20, 2008, Bolton said:
Let’s not forget one of his most amazing defenses against being criticized for him saying he would negotiate with the rogue states without preconditions was to say, "Well, I wouldn’t negotiate without preparations, without lower level exchanges," as if somehow we’re confused about what he said. But remember, he also has a team of advisers that I’m sure the rogue states would love to negotiate with, even if it never gets to him. This is a very serious issue of the United States, as to who’s going to represent us in international affairs, whether it would be Obama and his team, or McCain and his team.
On June 5, 2008, in a piece of the Los Angeles Times, Bolton wrote:
Barack Obama’s willingness to meet with the leaders of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea “without preconditions” is a naive and dangerous approach to dealing with the hard men who run pariah states.
Bolton also mocked Obama's willingness to negotiate without preconditions in a Sept. 15, 2009, op-ed in the New York Daily News.
Bolton wasn't alone. Obama's 2008 GOP rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), used the comments as a talking point to criticize Obama during the 2008 campaign.
McCain's running mate, then Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, slammed Obama for being willing to “meet with some of these madmen without any preconditions.”
And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) brought them up during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 2013.