Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, in his own address to the General Assembly on Tuesday evening, was at times sharply critical of U.S. foreign policy in the region, echoing the complaints of his predecessor over the treatment of Palestinians, the use of drones and other issues.
But he also pledged serious international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in a speech apparently designed to appeal to competing political interests inside Iran.
“We can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” Rouhani said, with Iran and the United States on “equal footing.”
Rouhani, making his debut at the world body, said he had “listened carefully” to Obama’s address from the same podium earlier in the day. He said Iran hopes that U.S. leaders can summon the political will to “refrain from following the shortsighted interests of warmongering pressure groups.”
The exploratory effort at renewed negotiations between Iran and the West will begin in earnest this week with a meeting at the United Nations between Iran’s foreign minister and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, one of the highest-level contacts between the two countries in years.
Although White House officials had signaled that a meeting — or an informal encounter — between Obama and Rouhani was a possibility, the Iranian leader did not appear at a luncheon where an exchange could have taken place. Senior White House officials said Tuesday that Iranian diplomats decided against a meeting, worried about how it would be received by hard-liners at home.
No U.S. president has met formally with an Iranian leader since the country’s 1979 revolution swept aside the U.S.-backed shah. One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “it was clear that it was too complicated for them.”
“The Iranians have an internal dynamic that they have to manage,” a second senior administration official said. “And the relationship with United States is clearly quite different than the relationship that Iran has with other Western nations.”
Obama’s address was his fifth to the General Assembly, and it reflected the approach of a president defending a foreign policy record and looking toward securing a legacy after he leaves office. By defining relations with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as his priorities for the region, the president made clear that he intends to be measured by his progress on the same issues that have repeatedly vexed his predecessors.