Trump does not want a war—and his base really doesn’t care about Iran’s meddling in Syria or Yemen or its larger alleged goal of creating a Shi’ite crescent of armed proxies spanning from Lebanon to Iran. Trump is simply seeking to upstage his predecessor President Barack Obama with what he can sell to his audience as a better deal.
Trump might have cut that deal a year ago, if only Iranian officials had said yes to his multiple entreaties to meet, so many that the Iranians “thought it was a joke,” as one party to the discussions put it. The Iranians, and the wider world, weren’t yet au fait with Trump’s ability to go from name-calling to conciliation at the speed of a tweet.
The quietly whispered worry from Trump advisers goes like this: If the Iranians are smart enough to pull a “Kim Jong Un,” and agree to meet with Trump, and then offer him some minor concessions—even a sliver of improvement over the original Iran deal—Trump may well take it, before the next round of sanctions have bitten hard enough to change Iran’s behavior and perhaps its leadership. But that would also tamp down the threat of miscalculation and accidental conflagration, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing.