As the Obama administration prepares for next week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, there are signs of a thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran that could lead to a meeting between President Barack Obama and Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the White House is open to direct contact between the two, which would mark the first face-to face meeting between an American president and a leader of the Islamic Republic, reports The Wall Street Journal
"We remain ready to engage with the Rouhani government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.
In his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since becoming president, Rouhani revealed to NBC News
that he and President Obama have taken a “subtle and tiny step for a very important future.”
Rouhani said that Obama had recently written to congratulate him on his election victory and that “some issues of his interest were raised” in the letter.
“I responded to that letter, I thanked him and expressed Iran’s viewpoint on the issues raised in his letter and some other issues,” he told NBC.
Rouhani also said he had been given authority by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to reach a deal with the West on the nuclear issue and reiterated Iran’s position that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.
“We have time and time again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever,” he stated.
Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has also communicated to Washington his wish to meet with senior American officials, according to the Journal.
“Zarif has been communicating his hopes for a number of meetings,” a senior official told the newspaper.
Zarif, a U.S. educated diplomat and former Iranian ambassador to the U.N., has reportedly worked closely with James Dobbins, now the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
U.S. officials and human rights activists have also been encouraged by the Rouhani government’s decision to release 11 political detainees, including prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, from Iran’s notorious Evin prison over the past two days.
Still, some in Congress are urging caution in proceeding to direct talks.
“If I were President Obama I wouldn’t elevate this guy until I had a good reason to do so. He’d have to show me something other than words and releasing a few prisoners,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Journal.
“The president would make a huge mistake if he started talking to the Iranian regime without something verifiable.”
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