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White House says no plans for Obama-Rouhani meeting at U.N. gathering

Sept. 16, 2013 at 6:10 PM   |   Comments

TEHRAN, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- President Obama doesn't intend to meet with Iran's new president at the U.N. General Assembly, the White House said Monday.

There has been mounting speculation Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, would get together on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering in New York where both are expected to speak next week. Such a meeting would be the first face-to-face encounter between a U.S. and Iranian leader since President Jimmy Carter met with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in December 1977, 14 months before Iran's Islamic revolution.

"There are currently no plans for the president to meet with his Iranian counterpart at UNGA next week," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.

Obama has disclosed he exchanged letters with Rouhani.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Lebanese news channel al-Mayadeen his country is ready to "build trust" with the United States.

"We are suffering from lack of mutual trust with the [United States]," Zarif acknowledged.

Tehran is "prepared to build trust with the U.S. government on the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, which serves peaceful purposes," he said.

Iran insists its uranium-enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, despite U.S. and Israeli claims Tehran is well along toward developing an atomic weapons program. Iran asserts that since its program is for peaceful purposes, it is legally entitled to enrich uranium.

Zarif, a U.S.-educated diplomat who was Iran's U.N. ambassador from 2002-07, said he and British Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, which starts Tuesday with routine diplomatic sessions.

World leaders generally begin their participation next week.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed it requested a time for talks with Zarif.

Rouhani is scheduled to address the assembly Sept. 24. The assembly is to have a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament Sept. 26.

Obama is expected to address the assembly next week too, although the date of his speech has not been announced.

The prospect of having Obama and Rouhani at the U.N. headquarters set the stage for a possible meeting between the two leaders, Britain's The Guardian reported Monday.

U.S. officials expressed skepticism about an Obama-Rouhani meeting, The Guardian said, but didn't reject the possibility.

The Financial Times reported Rouhani might meet with U.S. officials, but did not say who they might be.

Trita Parsi, president of Washington's National Iranian American Council and an expert on U.S.-Iranian diplomacy, told The Guardian if Obama were to meet Rouhani, it would likely be an orchestrated encounter in a corridor, rather than a sit-down talk, to "give both sides deniability."

Obama told ABC's "This Week" Sunday he and Rouhani had exchanged letters.

He did not say what the letters said, but London pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat reported Obama told Rouhani he was eager to "turn a new page" in his government's relations with Tehran and said Washington would even consider easing sanctions on Iran under the right conditions.

Al-Hayat said Obama delivered his letter through the sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al-Said. Oman and the White House had no immediate comment on the report.

Obama told "This Week" U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions were a "far larger issue for us" than Syria's chemical weapons because "the threat against Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests."

He said his "suspicion" was Iranian leaders "recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck [Syria] to think we won't strike Iran."

"On the other hand, what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically," Obama said.

"Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. "I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy. But, you know, my view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact, you can strike a deal."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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