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Will Obama meet with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani?

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on 14 Comments

Next week President Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani will be speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on the same day. According to the Guardian the leaders may be meeting face to face, the first such meeting between a US president and his Iranian counterpart since Carter met the Shah in 1977. But then, maybe not. The White House is saying, “currently”, there are no plans to meet.

What does this mean, or what could it portend? In an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos taped September 13, days after the US made a deal with Russia to stave off a US strike on Syria Obama said he’d been in communication with Rouhani.

The chatterings over Iran have been consistent as a result of the US/Russian deal on Syrian chemical weapons.  Many have wondered if the Iranians would draw a lesson from the US pullback on a Syrian strike, and Stephanopoulos queried Obama about it. Couched between the usual talking points Obama stated “they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically.”

From the Transcript:


What do you think Iran makes of all this?  You mentioned Iran.  Do you think they can look at all this and say, “Maybe all options aren’t on the table, you’re not willing to use force?”


No, I think– I think the Iranians, who we communicate with– in– indirect ways–


Have you reached out personally to the new president?


I have.  And– and he’s reached out to me.  We haven’t spoken– directly.  But–




Yeah.  And– I think what the Iranians understand is that– the nuclear issue– is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue, that– the threat against Iran– against Israel, that a nuclear Iran poses, is much closer to our core interests.  That– a nuclear arms race in the region– is something that would be profoundly destabilizing.

And so I– my suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they– they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck– to think we won’t strike Iran.  On the other hand, what is– what– they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically.  And–


You think they’re there?  You think they believe that?


I think they recognize, in part, because of the– the extraordinary sanctions that we placed on them, that the world community is united when it comes to wanting to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region.  And– you know, negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult.  I– I think this new president is not gonna suddenly make it easy.  But– you know, my view is that if you have– both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact– you can– you can strike a deal.




And– and I– and I hold out– I hold out that hope.

The Guardian’s Diplomatic editor Julian Borger hopefully noted the Obama/Rouhani meeting “could open way to diplomatic end to Iranian nuclear standoff” and interviewed Trita Parsi over the likelihood of a face to face:

US officials were sceptical about a Rouhani meeting, but some observers said the Geneva deal on Syria’s chemical weapons has opened new space for global diplomacy.

Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iran diplomacy, said “I think there is a chance [of a meeting]. It would be a strong political push for movement. If Obama got involved, it would be the infusion of political will needed to reach an agreement.

“Tehran is already claiming some of the credit for the Syria deal. Rouhani needs to show that through his diplomatic efforts he has already avoided a war. He is desperate in his first six months to show his approach has paid more dividends than the hardline approach of his predecessor.”

Parsi added that if Obama was to meet Rouhani it was likely to be an orchestrated encounter in a corridor, rather than a sit-down talk, “to give both sides deniability”.

The Iranians appear quite enthusiastic in Borger’s article. Fun tweet exchange:

Tehran took the Foreign Office by surprise, tweeting on Rouhani’s English-language feed that the president would also be prepared to meet Hague, something the UK had not even requested.

“Tehran has responded positively to UK’s request. President Rouhani’s meeting w/WilliamJHague on the sidelines of UNGA has been confirmed,” the tweet said.

“We would be happy to meet,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said, “but we have had nothing formal from Tehran about it.”

Diplomats said that the tweet reflected the new Iranian government’s eagerness to make diplomatic headway on the nuclear issue….


(Hat tip MW commenter NickJOCW)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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14 Responses

  1. annie
    September 16, 2013, 5:28 pm

    b @ moon of alabama has more news on this developing story

    A Spoiler Attempt On U.S.-Iran Negotiations:

    Negotiations between Iran and the United States are not welcome by Israel and the Gulf states. Israel needs to have some “bad guy” bogeyman in the neighborhood to point away from its continuing colonization of the West Bank and the Golan heights. Saudi Arabia is unwilling to allow a somewhat enlightened and developed example of an Islamic State in its neighborhood. Its own people could get ideas that other forms of government than by some dictatorial king might be desirable and compatible with their religion. These two powers will attempt to spoil any negotiations between the “west” and Iran.

    A recent report may be part of such an attempt. It asserts that the new Iranian government may be willing, in negotiations, to do away with one of its enrichment sites:

    SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country’s central bank to do international business again.

    read the whole thing for the ‘spoiler alert’. i agree w/b, it sounds fishy.

    • ritzl
      September 16, 2013, 7:54 pm

      The hyper-critical “bogeyman” need is precisely the reason why continued chaos in Syria is to Israel’s strategic advantage (as they see it). Maybe not so much as a tactical advantage (chaos next door always contains the risk of spillover). I think Israel views that trade as a net win. They need to be able to point unverifiable-because-of-chaos fingers at Iran in order to keep the money and politics flowing their way.

      But the more these issues move toward solution, the more their strategy seems to be backfiring. Solutions bring structure, verification, and worst of all to Israel, comparability/linkage.

      Maybe irishmoses’s comment about Brezinski’s optimism the other day (about solving all three major regional conflicts at once) was not so overly optimistic (as I responded) after all. Maybe it’s just time.

      It’s happening. I hope it continues to happen.

      • annie
        September 16, 2013, 11:49 pm

        what b references i think of as ‘throw any/everything against the wall and hope it sticks’ hasbara. take the big leap to the far realms scenariao, but there is nothing new in this. it was always the wish list of the neocons to have them dismantle fordo.

        note in this thread circa 4/2012:

        On background, CBS reported Netanyahu had issued a demand last month that Iran dismantle nuclear research facility at Fordo. Last week the Obama administration followed with the exact same demand.


        The hard-line approach would require the country’s military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside the holy city of Qum, and with it a huge investment in the one facility that is most hardened against airstrikes.

        Regardless of who thought of that plan, it sure stinks.

        i think it is more likely netanyahu was caught off guard and this is a foot stomping action.

      • ritzl
        September 18, 2013, 11:32 am

        Yes, I missed the point.

  2. James Canning
    James Canning
    September 16, 2013, 6:26 pm

    Obama should meet with Rouhani in New York. Full stop.

  3. James Canning
    James Canning
    September 16, 2013, 6:27 pm

    Spiegel reported today Rouhani may offer to close the Fordo nuclear enrichment facility.

    • crone
      September 16, 2013, 9:14 pm

      James, that was in Annie’s comment at the head of the thread… read her comment about it…

      • James Canning
        James Canning
        September 17, 2013, 5:15 pm

        @crone – – Was this story a “plant”?

    • James Canning
      James Canning
      September 17, 2013, 5:14 pm

      Iran apparently denies this offer will be made. ( report)

  4. Citizen
    September 17, 2013, 5:12 am

    Maybe Obama feels he has some flexibility he didn’t have before actual grass roots America protested so loudly to Congress they didn’t want a strike on Syria, no matter what AIPAC et al was saying?

    That, plus the evidence in so far the new Iranian president is a moderate, all things considered.

    So much so maybe he even feels he’s going to actually take a stab at earning his Noble Peace prize before he leaves office.

    OTH, every POTUS since ’92 knows what happened to Pappy Bush when he conditioned the customary unconditional millions in loan guarantees on Israel suspending its settlement expansion–in the interest of a good stab at the peace process; Bush Sr appealed directly to the American public (“I’m just one little guy & there’s powerful forces arrayed against me on the Hill”-paraphrasing), and, although Grass roots America stood behind him 3:1, Congress nevertheless bowed to AIPAC except for a couple of congress folks–and Bush Jr lost reelection:

    Given the rise of the internet since 1992, I’m not so sure the main media could keep the average Dick and Jane misinformed and/or uniformed this time around, if Obama chose to use the bully pulpit to change course in the Middle East generally, and actually try diplomacy, as he was forced to do with Putin and in light of the mass reaction against a strike on Syria.

    I can dream, can’t I? Hey, Iran just dropped the block on its own citizens’ full use of the internet’s social platforms.

    • Citizen
      September 17, 2013, 5:47 am
    • quercus
      September 17, 2013, 8:50 am

      @Citizen. The main media is finding it difficult to keep the average Dick and Jane misinformed because of the internet. With that understood, beware of the “Media Shield” law being pushed by Schumer and Feinstein. It is being ‘sold’ as a noble law that will protect journalists; in fact, what it seems to me is a way to attack those who would not be considered ‘legitimate’ journalists. I would ask, who they hell are Schumer and Feinstein to decide who is/is not a legitimate journalist?

  5. quercus
    September 17, 2013, 8:44 am

    Does George Stephanopoulous have the intellectual capacity of a third-grader or do the major media outlets truly believe the American public has the intellectual capacity of a third grader? I ask because reading Stephanopoulous’ questions makes me wonder.

    Where are the grown-ups — specifically the thoughtful, reasonably intelligent, rational, grown-ups? They do not seem to inhabit the television airwaves.

  6. just
    September 17, 2013, 8:56 am

    “So much so maybe he even feels he’s going to actually take a stab at earning his Noble Peace prize before he leaves office.”

    Brilliantly said, Citizen! We should normalize relations with Iran asap. It will bring so many good things to so many people………. It’s a win-win.

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