September 20, 2013

U.S. and Iran eye diplomatic defrosting at U.N.

By Julie Pace and Lara Jakes / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

"On the other hand, if you had a good deal, if the current efforts resulted in the end of Syria's chemical weapons program — verifiably, credibly and quickly, with the absence of military action — I think this could have very positive implications on prospects of diplomacy and willingness to take a risk on diplomacy in the case of Iran," Einhorn said.

Since Rouhani's election in June as the Islamic Republic's president, he and Obama have exchanged letters in what U.S. officials describe as an encouraging easing of Iran's defiance of the U.S. In contrast to his recalcitrant predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani is widely seen as a moderate politician who may have more autonomy to govern under Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It's unclear how many letters Obama and Rouhani have exchanged. The U.S. president sent at least one letter after Rouhani's inauguration in early August and Iranian officials say the new president did respond.

White House officials said Obama's letter to Rouhani touched on the long-stalled negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program, one of the main roadblocks to diplomacy between the two countries. Officials said Obama indicated that Washington was ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that would allow Iran to demonstrate that its program was exclusively for peaceful purposes.

"The letter also conveyed the need to act with a sense of urgency to address this issue because, as we have long said, the window of opportunity for resolving this diplomatically is open, but it will not remain open indefinitely," Carney said.

Rouhani, in his first interview with a Western media outlet, told NBC News that he thanked Obama for his outreach and "expressed Iran's viewpoint on the issues raised in his letter and some other issues."

In 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama also wrote to Khamenei expressing a desire for a different type of relationship between their countries. People familiar with the outreach say Khamenei responded with a letter of his own but gave little ground and, ultimately, the communications fizzled.

Einhorn also predicted that negotiators from the U.S. and Iran will sit down for direct one-on-one talks about the nuclear issue in the near future — a direct negotiation that he said has not happened since 2009.

Any direct exchange between Obama and Rouhani at the United Nations would be largely symbolic, with substantive negotiations on Iran's nuclear program almost certainly reserved for talks with officials from both governments.

Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, said Rouhani has a narrow window of opportunity to show the U.S. and the international community that he's more serious about negotiations than his predecessors.

"He doesn't have much time to show that his approach is more effective than the regime previously," Parsi said. "It's important for him to present something at the U.N. that is very memorable, that really adds to what he has already been doing over the last couple of weeks."

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