WASHINGTON: The much-anticipated meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly failed to take place as it turned out to be too complicated for Iranians, a senior Obama administration official has said.
“We did not have any plan for a formal bilateral meeting here. We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself.
“The Iranians got back to us; it was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
However, US would continue with its direct talks with Iran through the Secretary of State John Kerry as announced by Obama in his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday.
“I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China,” the President said.
The official cited “complicated dynamics in Iran” surrounding the relationship with the US as reason for the Iranians to turn down the offer and clarified that there was no proposal for a bilateral between the two presidents.
“I think part of what has strengthened the United States in the international community in terms of our unity is the President’s openness to engage Iran, and that’s what we’ve indicated from the beginning of the administration. I think that indicates that we’re ready to solve this problem, and that’s what we’ve indicated not just when we came into office, but most recently with President Rouhani,” he said.
“We had discussions at a working level with them and ultimately it became clear that that was too complicated for them at this time,” the official said.
“This was not a formal offer that then came back because it’s too complicated. Some conversations were taking place about the possibility of an informal, brief encounter,” the senior administration official said.
The US had, in fact, proposed for a chance encounter like handshake on the margins UN General Assembly.
There had been signs that the US and Iran would have the highest diplomatic contact since before Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution to try to settle Tehran’s nuclear issue. The official, however, asserted that the formal negotiations would take place only through the “P5 Plus One” process meaning the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia – and Germany.
“It’s important to note that we would never have a negotiation at this point at the presidential level on the substance of any nuclear agreement.
“The negotiation is going to take place at the foreign minister level and it’s going to take place through the P5-plus-1 process. That is going to go forward later this week,” he said.
“That’s why the President indicated in his speech that Secretary Kerry was going to be tasked with this effort of engaging the Iranians in the P5-plus-1.
“We do see an opening here for progress to be made through that track, and we’ll continue to pursue it,” the official said. -PTI