President Donald Trump said Monday that he'd "certainly meet" with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and without preconditions, if the Iranian leader were willing.
Speaking during a joint news conference with Italy's premier, Trump said he would meet with the Iranians "anytime they want to."
"I'll meet with anybody," he said. "There's nothing wrong with meeting."
The overture comes as Trump and the Iranians have been escalating their rhetoric after Trump's May withdrawal from the landmark nuclear accord. The United States has also vowed to boost sanctions until Iran changes its regional policies, including its support for regional militant groups.
It's unclear whether Rouhani has any interest in meeting with Trump. Rouhani's chief of staff claimed earlier this month in Iran's state-owned newspaper that Rouhani had rejected eight requests from Trump for one-on-one talks last year.
Rouhani recently warned the U.S. that "war with Iran is the mother of all wars," prompting an all-caps retort from Trump.
"To Iranian President Rouhani," he wrote on Twitter. "NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH."
He ended the message with a warning: "BE CAUTIOUS!"
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired back with his own message that began, "COLOR US UNIMPRESSED."
Trump tempered his threatening rhetoric two days later when he said his administration stands ready for Iran to come back to the negotiating table.
"We're ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster," he said.
Trump has long cast himself as a master negotiator who is most effective when he meets with his counterparts face-to-face. He pointed to his recent one-on-ones with North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Russia's Vladimir Putin as examples of the benefits of such get-togethers.
"I believe in meeting," he said, talking up the benefits of "speaking to other people, especially when you're talking about potentials of war and death and famine and lots of other things."
Asked whether he would set any preconditions for the meetings, Trump was clear.
"No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I'll meet anytime they want, anytime they want," he said. "Good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Monday that he was onboard with the president's invitation, saying Trump "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 maligned behavior, can agree that it's worthwhile to enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he's prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him," he said.
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the president's National Security Council, later said in a statement that the U.S. would not be lifting any sanctions or re-establishing diplomatic and commercial relations until "there are tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran's policies."
"Until then," he said, "the sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course."
Reaction on Capitol Hill was mixed, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is often critical of Trump, telling reporters: "I actually think that's a good idea."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., characterized the overture as "fine," but only "as long as they are willing to talk about being a normal country in the future."
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a frequent Trump critic, was more skeptical, calling it "another recipe for bad outcomes."
"It's the same as North Korea," he said. "No preconditions, no preparation. And what do we have? We have Kim Jong Un was elevated from an international pariah to someone who seems like a legitimate statesman."
Trump made the comments as he gave a joint news conference with the prime minister of Italy. Trump had endorsed how the country handled immigration issues as he welcomed the new premier to the White House for talks on trade and the military.
Trump said at the start of his meeting with Italy's Giuseppe Conte that the country's new populist government "has taken a very firm stance on the border." The president said other European countries should follow Italy's lead on migration issues.
"I agree very much what you're doing with respect to migration, illegal immigration and even legal immigration," Trump told Conte in the Oval Office.
Italy under Conte's new government has pushed for the European Union to accept tens of thousands of migrants coming across the Mediterranean Sea every year. The meeting follows a recent standoff over a private aid boat carrying more than 200 people who were rescued at sea. Italy, Malta and France all refused to let the vessel disembark.
Trump welcomed the prime minister to the White House for the first time since the Italian leader came to power in June, bringing together two outsider leaders who have emerged from populist waves within their countries.
Conte leads the euroskeptic coalition of the 5-Star Movement, which considers itself anti-establishment, and the right-wing, north-based League party.
Trump last week avoided escalating a trade dispute with the European Union and his administration is expected to begin negotiations quickly on avoiding tariffs on automobiles and removing trade barriers.
The U.S. president noted the U.S. trade deficit with Italy, a member of the EU, and said he was certain "we'll straighten that out pretty quickly."
The White House has noted that Italy is an important NATO ally and a key partner to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Conte, in brief remarks, thanked Trump for his "warm hospitality." Trump told him "you'll always be treated warmly."