Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama is not disappointed that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani balked at meeting him at the UN, and is instead focused on formal nuclear talks, the White House said Wednesday.
Expectations that the two leaders could hold the first meeting between presidents of the United States and the Islamic Republic at the UN General Assembly were dashed on Tuesday.
U.S. Officials, who had spent the past week refusing to rule out such an encounter, said the potential of a meet up had proven too politically problematic for Rouhani.
White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether Obama was disappointed he did not get the chance to size up the new Iranian president in person.
“The president is not,” Carney said, saying Obama had been open to the possibility of an informal encounter with Rouhani and remained so.
“The president believes that the most important issues, when it comes to Iran’s relationship with the rest of the international community, including the United States, are ones that need to be resolved through negotiations over substantive matters around Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“I think that we should not over-interpret the fact that the Iranians decided against having an encounter,” Carney said.
Obama and Rouhani, who since winning an election in June has said he wants to improve relations, spoke several hours apart at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. They were never in the same room together.
The two sides discussed a possible meeting, but in the end it was “too complicated,” for Iran, said a senior U.S. official.
Rouhani told CNN that Washington had made the running over a possible meeting.
“I believe we didn’t have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting,” he said.
Carney said that Rouhani’s speech at the UN was consistent with signals coming from Tehran over the past few weeks that it was interested in serious negotiations over its nuclear program.
“We are very interested in testing the assertions about that interest on behalf of the Iranians in resolving this conflict diplomatically,” Carney said.
Iran earlier praised Obama’s speech, noting a “moderate and respectful tone” adopted towards Tehran.
The first test of several weeks of promising rhetoric between the foes will come on Thursday, as Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif join counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia to discuss Iran’s nuclear program at UN headquarters.