Even as it crafts a response to overtures from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Obama administration is working to reassure Israeli officials there will be no easing of sanctions on Tehran unless it first takes tangible steps to limit its nuclear program, U.S. and diplomatic sources said.
Private discussions taking place at various levels both in Washington and Israel appear intended to calm Israelis’ fears that the United States is moving prematurely toward rapprochement with Iran at a time when they are already questioning U.S. resolve to keep open the threat of military action.
But judging from the latest public comments from senior Israeli officials, the White House faces an uphill struggle to overcome those misgivings.
The outreach to close U.S. ally Israel comes as Rouhani, who has issued a barrage of favorable gestures toward the United States, prepares to travel to New York for his debut address at the United Nations on Tuesday and the tantalizing possibility of meeting President Barack Obama face-to-face.
In public comments, Obama and his aides have been cautious not to embrace Rouhani without reservations. But they have made clear that they are ready to test his intentions to seek a diplomatic solution to Iran’s long-running nuclear dispute with the West.
“We’re going to make judgments based on the actions of the Iranian government, not simply their words,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Friday, previewing the speech Obama will deliver before the U.N. General Assembly just hours before Rouhani takes to the world stage.
Rhodes reiterated that Obama, who has exchanged letters with Rouhani, had no meeting scheduled with his Iranian counterpart, who has struck a dramatically different tone than his stridently anti-U.S. predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the White House has left open the possibility they could still meet on the U.N. sidelines, and a U.S. official has privately acknowledged the administration’s desire to engineer a handshake between the two leaders, which would be the highest-level U.S.-Iranian contact since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.