Iran-US talks: Should Barack Obama fall into Hassan Rowhani`s trap?

Kamna Arora

It was in 1972 when the then US president Richard Nixon visited China to end 20 years of frosty relations between Washington and Beijing. When, of late, reports came that US President Barack Obama and Iran`s newly-elected President Hassan Rowhani may shake hands at the United Nations General Assembly, some people expected it to be `Nixon in China` moment.

History repeated itself at the United Nations. In 2000, the then US president Bill Clinton had reportedly tried to engineer an impromptu encounter with the then Iran’s president Mohammad Khatami. The moderate had then declined.

The history-making encounter did not take place this time too. The optimists soon faced disappointment when Iranian delegation indicated that it would be “too complicated” for Rowhani and Obama to meet at the United Nations this week.

Rowhani avoided a much-anticipated encounter that would have thawed more than three decades of dissension between the leaders of Iran and the United States, the countries which do not have formal diplomatic ties.

Speaking more than six hours after Obama addressed the UN, Rowhani`s tone was not as belligerent as his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s. Neither did he mention or condemn Israel, nor did he deny the existence of the Holocaust. The Iranian President, who earlier gave interviews to American broadcasters in moderate tone, condemned the Western sanctions imposed on his country, possibly to placate Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other hard-liners keeping an eye on him back home. His efforts to make everyone believe that nuclear weapons had no place in Iran`s future were twaddle.

Israel was quick to refuse Rowhani`s claims. And Obama, who had since his inception as US President favoured talks with Iran, was not much excited too. In 2009, when Obama entered the White House carrying an olive branch for Iran, he reached out to Tehran publicly and privately. He had reportedly sent secret letters to Iran`s Supreme Leader, emphasising that he sought a "new beginning" with Iran.

In an unprecedented move in March 2009, Obama mentioned the "Islamic Republic of Iran" while sending Persian New Year message to the people and leaders of Iran, indicating that he did not seek a regime change. Obama`s all out efforts to go the extra mile were met with failure, all thanks to Iran`s nudges.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in 2013, the much-matured Obama underlined that Rowhani`s “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable".

In the speech, Obama noted that Americans viewed Iran as a country that declared the United States an enemy.

Rowhani`s speech could have been strategised to ease US sanctions pressure by indicating that they may return to the negotiating table.

Keeping in mind that Americans are fed up of the US` interventions in the Middle East, Obama would of course not want to miss the chance to walk on the diplomatic path with the Rowhani.

Embracing a diplomatic opening to Iran, Obama said he had directed US Secretary of State John Kerry to begin high-level negotiations on its nuclear program.

Kerry will meet Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran`s foreign minister, on September 26 in an encounter that is expected to pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the west over the country’s nuclear programme. The meeting will be the highest-level involving the US and Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Albeit it will be inane to believe that Iran is ready to abandon its nuclear programme overnight for which it has been facing condemnation and sanctions, yet the door to talks has re-opened. The road to a deal over Iran`s nuclear programme remains uphill.