|Obama may extend his hand to Rouhani at UN: analysis||
TEHRAN – The UN General Assembly meetings will offer U.S. President Barack Obama a chance to extend a hand, both literally and figuratively, to new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Reuters wrote in an analysis published on Thursday.
The White House said on Thursday a meeting was possible, the first between U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"It's possible, but it has always been possible," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "The extended hand has been there from the moment the president was sworn in.”
It looks more likely to be a handshake and brief exchange of pleasantries - probably in the UN building - rather than a formal meeting where the leaders could talk at greater length.
With conciliatory overtures and gestures emanating from Iran's ruling echelon at a surprising pace in recent days, the White House is looking for the right balance in forming a response.
On Thursday, Rouhani published an opinion piece in the Washington Post urging other leaders "to respond genuinely to my government's efforts to engage in constructive dialogue."
For its part, the White House said this week Obama had written Rouhani to convey the message "that the U.S. is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes."
A U.S. official said the White House hoped to engineer a handshake in the UN building between the two leaders, but by no means a full meeting, and a second official also bet on a handshake, while saying there were currently no such plans.
Regardless of whether Obama and Rouhani shake hands, the more serious issue is whether both countries are ready to get into a direct bilateral discussion.
The United States suspects Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons... Iran denies that, saying its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes.
A decade of negotiations between Iran and the West has yet to resolve the dispute and the United States has said it would not take any option off the table… in dealing with Iran's nuclear program.
Speeches by Obama and Rouhani, who address the United Nations (on) Tuesday, will attract scrutiny for signs of a thaw.
While there has been speculation of talks between the two presidents or between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif during the UN meetings, current and former U.S. officials said lower-level contact might make more sense.
"That's often the way they start because you're not really sure what you're dealing with," said a U.S. official. "You can survive a lower-level meeting that doesn't work, but you can't survive a higher-level that doesn't work."
The United States has several potential candidates to lead the talks, including Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who currently leads U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, and Bill Burns, deputy secretary of state, who is a past negotiator with Iran and a Middle East expert.
"The level and the negotiator will not be difficult to arrange ... the formal trappings, they'll figure out," said Dennis Ross, a former senior White House official under Obama now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.
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