Iran President Rouhani Turned Down Offer Of Obama Meeting At United Nations

Much anticipated meeting between Obama and Iranian president on the fringes of UN general assembly fails to materialise.
A much-anticipated meeting between the US president Barack Obama and the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani did not happen on Tuesday, according to White House officials.

There had been speculation that the pair would meet on the fringes of the United Nations general assembly in New York, in what would have been the first such encounter since the Islamic revolution toppled the shah of Iran in 1979.

But Obama administration officials said that while the US offered a meeting, the Iranian delegation turned it down, saying it was "too complicated".

Officials from the two countries have been discussing the logistics of an "encounter" in the UN complex in mid-town Manhattan for several days, a UN official confirmed to the press pool travelling with Obama. In the end though, the official said, it was "too complicated for Iranians to do at this point".

Theres was no immediate statement from the Iranian delegation. But Press TV, Tehran's English-language television station, gave alcohol as the reason that Rouhani had missed one possible venue for a handshake or a few shared words, the lunch traditionally hosted by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon on the opening day of the general assembly. When guests gathered in the delegates lounge of the UN building, they were seated at tables upon which white and red wine were served – a facility that proved too much for the Muslim theologian Rouhani.

The White House said that a meeting would go ahead on Thursday between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, his Iranian counterpart and other foreign ministers from the other permanent security council members, plus Germany. That meeting is intended to address reviving negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned that the world "should not be fooled" by signs of moderation by Rouhani and must keep up the pressure on Tehran. "Iran thinks soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb," Netanyahu said.

In his UN speech, Obama said he had assigned Kerry to oversee negotiations with Tehran. In the past those talks had been led by a succession of State Department diplomats, and critics had complained there was no one in the administration who was in charge of US-Iran policy.

He also offered Rouhani an important symbolic gesture, making the first official US acknowledgement of the CIA's well-documented role in the ousting of Iran's democratically-elected government in 1953. "This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of US interference in their affairs, and America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the cold war," Obama said.

The reference to the CIA's part in the ousting of Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran's democratically elected leader, marked a first official admission of that role, and represented an important gesture to Rouhani. It will be seen in Iran as a diplomatic victory and belated acknowledgement of a long-festering Iranian sense of injustice. The coup, support by both the US and the UK, paved the way for the dictatorship of the shah, and then the 1979 Islamic revolution against it.

"I don't believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight. The suspicions run too deep. But I do believe if we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme that can be a major step," Obama said.
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