Next week's U.N. 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.Even a handshake would be huge. Which could lead to this:
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 U.N. building - rather than a formal meeting where the leaders could talk at greater length.
Iran’s leaders, seizing on perceived flexibility in a private letter from President Obama, have decided to gamble on forging a swift agreement over their nuclear program with the goal of ending crippling sanctions, a prominent adviser to the Iranian leadership said Thursday.The U.S. is not promising the quick relief from the sanctions that Iran is seeking, and there are, of course, huge dangers to any rapprochement.
The adviser, who participated in top-level discussions of the country’s diplomatic strategy, said that Mr. Obama’s letter, delivered to Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, about three weeks ago, promised relief from sanctions if Tehran demonstrated a willingness to “cooperate with the international community, keep your commitments and remove ambiguities.” The text of the letter has not been made public, but the adviser described its contents in an interview in his office on Thursday.
Mr. Mohebbian and other officials and analysts said that Iran was focused on getting quick relief from financial sanctions because they have cut it off from the international banking system, and that in exchange it might be willing to curb its nuclear enrichment program. Some in the leadership are also worried that if nuclear talks do not yield quick results, Iran’s hard-line clerics and military men — currently sidelined — could attack Mr. Rouhani as a sellout and clip his political wings.
And of course, any contacts between the United States and Iran are fraught with political risks for Iran's reform-minded new president, but President Obama has seemed to understand those risks, and the ugly history behind them, in a way the Republicans do not.
Reestablishing any relations with Iran would be a monumental achievement, and any such effort will no doubt bring criticism from the American right wing, while being a tightrope walk for Rouhani. But the opportunity seems genuine. And it can start with a handshake. Which could signal a historic change.