could not

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Akeem is seeing Lisa in New York and is serious about her. His father, a king, meets her:
- I understand you are seeing my son.
- I was seeing him.

He tells her that a bride has already been chosen for Akeem and he came to America to just sow his royal oats:
- So, you see, he could not be at all serious about you.
Later he tells her father:
- I told her the truth, that Akeem could not be interested in her. (......) [to the gueen] Our son cannot consort with such a girl.
Coming to America, movie

I'm confused. She tells him they are not seeing each other already. So, when he uses "could not" two times, in both cases he means the period in the past, when Lisa was dating Akeem? Or is he still talking about a possibility in the future?
Thank you.
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  • Two issues. First, time. The father well may assume Lisa is minimizing or denying, yet still dating. So in his mind he is addressing the present, despite the denial.

    Second, assume this is the case. Even suppose Lisa said, "Yes, I'm dating him."
    Can 'could' be used? Yes.
    The father might say, "Since I've chosen his bride and he's an obedient son, he could not be interested in you."

    "Could" does not necessarily indicate 'past,' but rather a hypothetical situation. Contrast with 'He cannot be interested in you." 'could' would mean, "under any conceivable scenario [whatever you say happened or was said], it is impossible that he have real interest in you."
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