How Obama and Rouhani aim to usher in a 'a new era of relations'
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani, described desires for diplomacy on the subject of nuclear armament in their speeches at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday cautiously embraced overtures from Iran's new president as the basis for a possible nuclear deal, but a failed effort to arrange a simple handshake between the two leaders underscored entrenched distrust that will be hard to overcome.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Negotiating Iran
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In a speech to the United Nations, Obama said he was determined to test President Hassan Rouhani's recent diplomatic gestures and challenged him to take concrete steps toward resolving Iran's long-running nuclear dispute with the West.
Hours later, Rouhani used his debut at the world body to pledge Iran's willingness to engage immediately in "time-bound" talks on the nuclear issue but he offered no new concessions and repeated many of Iran's grievances against the United States, and Washington's key Middle East ally, Israel.
He steered clear, however, of the Holocaust-denial rhetoric that was characteristic of his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and later told CNN that the Holocaust had been a "reprehensible crime" against Jews, although the scale of it was a matter for historians.
Rouhani told CNN he did not meet Obama at the U.N. General Assembly because the two sides "didn't have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting."
But he said the environment was changing because Iranians wanted "a new era of relations" with the people of the rest of the world. He then switched to English and said with a smile: "I would like to say to American people, I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans."
A senior U.S. official said the difficulty in arranging the handshake had been on the Iranian side.
"We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself," the official said. "The Iranians got back to us. It was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home."
The failed handshake was a sign of the difficulties the United States and Iran countries face in trying to seize a historic opening after decades of hostility.
Even a brief meeting would have been symbolically important given that it would have been the first face-to-face contact between U.S. and Iranian heads of government since before the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah.