U.S.—Iranian Handshake Won't Happen

It looks like Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won’t meet U.S. President Barack Obama face-to-face at this week’s United Nations summit, as some had speculated. However, Rouhani nevertheless sounded cautiously optimistic in his speech to the UN today, and the highest level talks between the two countries in more than thirty years will take place next week as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his Iranian counterpart to discuss the country’s nuclear program.

In the days leading up to the meeting, a flurry of conciliatory actions on the part of Rouhani had raised hopes that he and Obama might exchange a handshake (literally) at the summit meeting. This would have been a significant handshake, as the American and Iranian heads of state haven’t met in person since 1977 (and that was before the current Iranian government even existed).

The White House had said it was open to the idea, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The plan was allegedly scrapped after domestic political concerns proved too tricky for Rouhani to navigate.

“The Iranians have an internal dynamic that they have to manage and the relationship with the United States is clearly quite different than the relationship that Iran has with other Western nations,” an administration official told Politico.

Nevertheless, Rouhani spoke hopefully of a renewed relationship between the United States and Iran during his speech:

“Iran seeks constructive engagement with other countries based on mutual respect and common interest, and within the same framework does not seek to increase tensions with the United States. I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama today at the General Assembly. Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences. To this end, equal footing, mutual respect, and the recognized principles of international law should govern the interactions.”

Yesterday, the White House announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other foreign leaders later this week, and Obama said earlier today that he’d directed Kerry to make a concerted effort to help renew U.S.—Iranian relations.