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September 25, 2013

Iran, US Talked Big, Now Take it Slow

by Jeff Seldin

A hoped-for thaw between the U.S. and Iran is not taking hold as quickly as some had hoped. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke at the United Nations Tuesday, but instead of grand gestures, the world saw optimistic yet cautious rhetoric.
 
While addressing the U.N. General Assembly for the first time, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sounded hopeful regarding better relations with the U.S.
 
"We can arrive at a framework to manage our differences," he said.
 
However, despite the positive words, more familiar demands followed as the Iranian president staked out Tehran's position more clearly.
 
"Acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights, provides the only path," said the Iranian president.
 
Rouhani's speech echoed the somber tone sounded earlier by U.S. President Barack Obama.
 
"We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested," said Obama during his address.
 
Obama's words were carefully chosen, according to Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation committed to a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons.
 
 “I think the U.S. president is clearly extending a hand to Iran and hoping to get a handshake back,” said Cirincione.
             
There was hope for a literal handshake earlier, at a U.N. luncheon, but U.S. officials said a meeting was offered but turned down by Iran. The Iranians said to hold even a brief meeting between the two presidents would be "too complicated."
 
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says such difficulties shouldn't be a surprise.
 
“Even if Rouhani has for now the supreme leader’s support, there are a lot of politicians in Iran that would like to see him fail, whose economic and political fortunes are made by no relation with the U.S.,” said Mathews.
 
Still, Iran has agreed to pursue confidence building measures. Iran analyst Geneive Abdo says it could be the first step in a long process.
 
“It’s imperative for the United States to convince the Iranians that they too want change and to end the hostility and that now the long process of doing that has begun,” said Abdo.
 
The next step may come when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in the highest-level meeting between the two countries in decades.