President Obama has now confirmed that he has indeed exchanged letters with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rowhani. It is but one of a flurry of recent signals that the United States and Iran are considering direct talks in an effort to see if they can diplomatically resolve concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in an interview that aired on September 15 if he’d reached out to the new Iranian president, Obama said: “I have. And he’s reached out to me.”
Obama told ABC that “my suspicion is that the Iranians 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.”
Rumors abound of a possible “impromptu” corridor encounter between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York. (The White House has officially denied any plans for a meeting between Obama and Rowhani when both leaders address the U.N. body September 24.)
Meantime, Iran’s hard-line supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly endorsed diplomacy, in a speech to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps on September 16. “I am not opposed to correct diplomacy,” Khamenei reportedly said. “I believe in what was named many years ago as ‘heroic flexibility.’”
Then, most bewildering of all, there are the Rosh Hashanah greetings that Rowhani and Zarif issued over Twitter earlier in September, spurring both stunned amazement and some skepticism in the social media and policy universes.
Watching the signs of outreach and openness for dialogue between the United States and Iran with increasing anxiety is Israel, perpetually worried that the Americans will be duped by the new Iranian leaders’ public relations savvy and diplomatic skills — light years better than those of their Holocaust denying predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But American officials have been adamant that they will not be fooled by Twitter diplomacy. What they are looking for from Iran is action — not words, they say; concrete, substantive agreement to ensure that Iran is not able to reach a “breakout” capability to make a nuclear bomb.