Both Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, each referring to the prospects for forthcoming discussions on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Obama’s statement (see video) was relatively brief, blaming Iran for past failures to settle the issue while declaring, “Statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement.” The one substantive point was that Secretary of State John Kerry would join Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in talks with representatives of the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) in New York this week.
Rouhani’s address provoked much more comment, with a striking diversity of opinions. Some welcomed what they saw as a marked change of tone from Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Others saw little significant movement — EA reader Pak incisely noted that, like Obama, the Iranian President gave “a pretty sterile performance”:
Nobody seems to want to make the first move….[Rouhani] rehashed the usual empty statements and offering his own gimmicks, including the “WAVE” [an invitation to all to join the “World Against Violence and Extremism].
Analyst Ali Gharib agreed, “Rouhani’s speech was anti-climactic. Not much there there: no specifics, no confrontation,” while Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post contrasted an opening section that had more than a few traces of Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric with Rouhani’s closing call for “moderation” and “virtue”, citing the Bible and Torah as well as the Qur’an:
You would have liked @HassanRouhani's speech better if he led off w/ substance & closed with ideology instead of the other way around.
— Jason Rezaian (@jrezaian) September 24, 2013
The bottom line is that both speeches are probably peripheral to key developments at the United Nations this week.
The significant advances came away from the podium, with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and the European Union’s Catherine Ashton — the lead negotiator for the 5+1 Powers — re-starting the process for a nuclear agreement.
That discussion already brought Secretary of State Kerry to the table, and it is likely that there will be further encounters before the formal resumption of high=level talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers in Geneva next month.
It is there, rather than in Tuesday’s rhetoric, that the possibility lies for a resolution of the dispute between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear issue — and possibly other matters.