No one, including Obama administration officials, knows what might happen instead.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Obama are set to address the world body on Tuesday, with the tantalizing prospect of a face-to-face meeting between the leaders of two nations so long poised as enemies.
Rouhani’s speech is expected to be the main event in nearly a week of interviews, think-tank talks and other appearances meant to showcase a newly moderate, approachable face of the Iranian government. The charm offensive included an op-ed by the Iranian leader in Friday’s Washington Post.
“As I depart for New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, I urge my counterparts to seize the opportunity presented by Iran’s recent election,” Rouhani wrote in the op-ed. “I urge them to make the most of the mandate for prudent engagement that my people have given me and to respond genuinely to my government’s efforts to engage in constructive dialogue.”
U.S. officials say they have been encouraged by recent gestures from Rouhani, including the public discussion of his country’s disputed nuclear program — the crux of Iran’s standoff with the West. Obama has said he will do whatever it takes, including a military strike, to stop Iran from building a bomb. Rouhani said in a television interview this week that his country will never seek nuclear weapons.
“There’s no question that the new Iranian government has been taking a different approach in the things that it has said about a lot of issues,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. “It has taken some actions that suggest a new approach.”
Carney and other U.S. officials, however, have been careful not to embrace Rouhani without reservations and have emphasized that Iran’s stated desire to improve relations with the international community needs to be followed up with concrete steps.
“Rouhani’s comments are very positive, but everything needs to be put to the test, and we’ll see where we go,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Thursday.
A contrast to Ahmadinejad
The barrage of friendly Iranian gestures marks a U-turn away from the rhetoric of Rouhani’s immediate predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who for a decade regularly denounced the United States and Israel and suggested that the Holocaust was a myth.
If Obama is to make good on his 2008 campaign promise to explore the possibility of improved relations and a nuclear rapprochement with Iran, the U.N. meeting this year appears to be his best chance yet.
Rouhani stunned many with a Rosh Hashanah greeting to Jews this month and announced Thursday that he will bring Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament with him to New York.