Obama Reaches Out To Iran During UN Speech, as Kerry Prepares to Meet with Rouhani
During his speech at the UN meeting Tuesday, Obama said that the issues that the international community has with Iran's nuclear weapons program won't be solved immediately but that he sees the potential for a "major step down a long road toward a different relationship."
"The road blocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe that the diplomatic path must be tested," Obama said.
Obama also said that open and honest conversations about the country's nuclear program would be necessary for furthering a relationship between the two nations.
The Obama administration has already consented to a meeting between Iranian leaders and Secretary of State John Kerry set for Thursday, and the possibility of a meeting between the two Presidents is still being tossed around. Iran's newly-elected president has made several steps towards mending fences with the West, including stating that the country has no interest in proliferating nuclear weapons and releasing political prisoners.
During his speech Tuesday, Obama also addressed two other areas of tension in the Middle East, Syria's use of chemical weapons, and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
The president took the opportunity to make his case for implementing stern consequences for Syria if the country does not comply with terms for turning over their stores of chemical weapons for destruction. He asked for international support when it comes to holding Syria's leaders accountable.
"Now, there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments. And there must be consequences if they fail to do so," Obama said. "If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws."
Obama also called on international leaders to get behind peace talks between Israel and Palestine to help push the possibility of peaceful coexistence between the two groups moving forward. He linked instability in the region to nuclear concerns in Iran:
In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab- Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.
The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly or through proxies taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
Even a handshake between the two leaders would signify a historic moment in relations between the two countries, which have been on hold since Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979.
Israel, for it's part, is not exactly overwhelmed with joy. As the New York Times reports:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel expressed appreciation Tuesday for President Obama’s statement in his United Nations address that “Iran’s conciliatory words will have to be matched by action that is transparent and verifiable.” Mr. Netanyahu said, “Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.” But he ordered Israel’s delegation to boycott the speech by the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and accused Iran of offering only “cosmetic concessions.”