An Obama-Rouhani Handshake Is 'Too Complicated' for Iran Right Now

Hours after President Barack Obama directed John Kerry to pursue an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, U.S. officials said that there would be no meeting between Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

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Update 5:30 p.m.: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, now committed to an Obama handshake-free UN General Assembly, addressed the international body on Tuesday afternoon and called for world peace. Rouhani said his country sought  "collective collaboration" with the international community, adding, "we should not just tolerate others. We should ... work together." But Rouhani's speech, despite its "invitation to join the wave" against violence and extremism, was harder and tone than the president's recent charm offensive, as Iran's elected leader spent considerable time criticizing western military intervention and foreign policy. In the audience today was U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary Di Carlo, the highest American official to attend an Iran speech at the General Assembly in years.

Rouhani referred to his recent election as a "clear living example of the wise choice of hope" of the people of Iran. "The current critical period of transition in international relations" has "dangers," but also "new opportunities," he added Then, presumably addressing the western countries in the audience, Rouhani condemned "coercive economic and military policies" aimed at supporting "old superiorities," adding that one "manifestation" of that mindset is an assumption that "western mindsets" should represent everyone.

Speaking of Obama's speech on Tuesday, Rouhani (who did not attend the speech) said he hoped the U.S. could avoid the pressures of "warmongering pressure groups." in its foreign policy.

Concerning the country's nuclear program, Rouhani said, "Iran and other actors should pursue two common objectives," First, Iran's nuclear program "must pursue exclusively peaceful purposes." "Notwithstanding the positions of others, this has been and always will be the" objective of Iran, he said. WMDs "contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions," he said. He pledged to remove all "reasonable" concerns from the international community regarding Iran's program. Second, Rouhani said, that the international community must allow Iran to have its "nuclear rights."

The Iranian president said that the international community has used the "Iranian threat" as an "excuse" over the past three decades for actions detrimental to Iran and the region. Rouhani specifically referenced Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of chemical weapons in the 1980s, coinciding with the U.S.'s support of Hussein against Iran. More directly, he referred to the current international climate as "Islamophobic, Shia phobic and Iran phobic." Rouhani also denounced the treatment of Palestinians (without, notably, mentioning Israel), and the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Original Post: Hours after President Barack Obama directed John Kerry to pursue an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, U.S. officials said that there would be no meeting between Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In other words, this will be a handshake-free week in New York.

According to the White House pool reports, such a meeting was "too complicated" for Iran's domestic politics to consider. Kerry will still meet with Iran's foreign minister and a group of other international officials on Thursday, however.

All of this drama came after the U.S. indicated its willingness to engage with Iran this week in New York, for everything from a handshake to an actual meeting. Obama and Rouhani exchanged a series of letters in recent weeks that have opened up the possibility of renewed talks on the country's nuclear program, which Rouhani insists will "never" develop a nuclear weapon. Despite the lack of a meeting between the leaders, Iran is pretty optimistic about its chances of rekindling some international diplomacy this week, as evidenced by this Iranian paper's sudden ability to see the future:

To add the intrigue, Israel's U.N. delegation plans on walking out in protest before Iran's speech this afternoon. Israel believes that Iran's U.N. charm offensive is just a method to stall international action on the country's nuclear program, therefore giving it more time to develop a weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give the final speech at this year's General Assembly on Monday. The speech will include a demand that Iran shutter its nuclear program and hand over all of its enriched uranium to the international community.

Even a best-case scenario for Iranian-American diplomatic talks would require more than just a willingness of Tehran and the White House to pursue a solution. As Al Jazeera America points out, one of the key issues for Iran here is the crippling sanctions against the country, and the Obama administration can only lift eight of the 31 sanctions against Iran on its own. The rest require approval from the U.N., the E.U., or Congress. Add in Israel's strong rejection of the current Tehran outreach, and one can begin to see just how difficult it could be to convince the legislative branch to lift sanctions in response to Iran concessions.

Here's the full livestream of the U.N. General Assembly:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.