The U.S. Isn't Ready to Rush into Anything Serious With Iran (Yet)

Iran's new president Hasan Rouhani, is already livetweeting his time in New York this week for the UN General Assembly. 

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Iran's new president Hasan Rouhani, is already livetweeting his time in New York this week for the UN General Assembly. And while it could be that Team Rouhani just likes using Twitter, the move reads as part of the president's obvious goal for his first General Assembly: a charm tour. With one interview to NBC under his belt, and an op-ed in the Washington Post, Rouhani clearly wants to win friends and influence American people. John Kerry, along with diplomats from other major international powers, will meet with Iran's Foreign minister on Thursday, but the White House hasn't followed through on the president's interest in making contact with Rouhani, despite all the overtures indicating that it could actually happen. And that, apparently, is because U.S. officials aren't quite ready to believe the olive branch is what it looks like.

That could change a bit Tuesday, after both Presidents Obama and Rouhani give their addresses before the international body. The administration, in a general sense, has expressed willingness to engage in anything from a handshake to a formal meeting with the Iranian president, who is believed to have the blessing for Iran's head of state, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to negotiate in international nuclear talks. According to the Wall Street Journal, however, U.S. officials (along with other international officials) are going to wait and see what happens this week:

"The question remains open" on whether Iran is serious, said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy. "The ball has been in their court for some time." A second U.S. official said the P5+1 [the international negotiating body on Iran's nuclear program] was "waiting to see what [the Iranians] come with" on Thursday. 

The last time Iranian and American officials met face-to-face was 2007, when Condoleezza Rice got ice cream with her counterpart in Iran's government. So the new Iranian administration's charm blitz, along with the prospect of another, even superficial encounter between the two countries, is already attracting some attention. Foreign Policy wrote about a closed-door meeting with Iran's Javad Zarif and about 100 international diplomats:

"I have been a multilateralist all my life; Iran wants to engage with the world," Zarif told a gathering of more than 100 diplomats at a private luncheon at the U.N. delegates' dining room, according to a diplomat who was in the room. A former Iranian envoy to the United Nations, Zarif insisted that Iran is ready to deal: "We will move ahead and resolve the [nuclear] problem, not just for the sake of negotiation, not just for the sake of talking."

Right now, official word from the White House on a possible Obama-Iran meet-up comes from Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, who told reporters on Air Force One on Monday that “[the U.S. is] open to engaging with Iran on a variety of levels... This is not something we object to in principle. We will do so if we believe it is in our interest.” Rhodes declined to use language stronger or more certain than "open to engaging" to describe the U.S.'s plans for a meet-up with Iran. If it happens this week, even briefly, it'd be a big deal of a sort: there hasn't been a face-to-face meet between Iran and U.S. leaders since 1979. In 2000, the New York Times reports, outgoing president Bill Clinton tried to make a meeting with Iran's president at the time happen, but it didn't work out. Thirteen years later, it looks like the U.S., while once again "open to engagement," isn't rushing into anything serious with Iran for the moment.

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