Rouhani: ‘Not enough time’ for Obama handshake

Updated
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani waits to address the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 24, 2013
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani waits to address the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 24, 2013
Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani commented for the first time Wednesday on his decision not to meet President Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, and gave new comments about the Holocaust and Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have no problem shaking Mr. Obama’s hand or negotiating, but we need a plan of action to ensure these meetings create the conclusions that we want,” Rouhani said of not meeting with Obama at the UN General Assembly. Rouhani spoke at an informal conversation with media, including NBC.  ”We did not have enough time to make it happen. We never have a problem shaking Mr. Obama’s hand.”

“It was two days ago that the U.S. proposed a meeting and we were not opposed,” Rouhani said. “This is a very sensitive subject. We have not talked at that level for 35 years. We must take these steps carefully.”

He added that “we are ready to negotiate, but we didn’t have enough time to make that happen…The handshake is a symbolic issue.”

After telling NBC News’ Ann Curry last week that he couldn’t comment about former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust because he is not an historian but a politician, Rouhani on Wednesday completely repudiated his predecessor’s position.

Rouhani told reporters that “the massacre by the Nazis was condemnable. We never want to sit by side with the Nazis.” He said that “they committed a crime against Jews, which is a crime against Christians, against Muslims, against all of humanity.”

“The Nazi’s committed a crime in World War II,” Rouhani said. “As to the scale of the massacres, and the numbers that my predecessor mentioned, let’s leave that to the historians. The Nazis carried out a massacre that cannot be denied, especially against the Jewish people.”

On the nuclear issue, President Rouhani told me, “There is nothing we have hidden or seek to hide” on the nuclear program, and that “where there is a reasonable concern we are ready to give assurances to all the negotiating parties.” He also said the issues of the level of enrichment and the number of nuclear sites can all be placed on the table, with the “aim to alleviate concerns.”  “Whether it’s 20% enrichment, or 5% enrichment, all of those can be placed on the table and examined.”

“The endgame is the removal of everyone’s concerns and the restoration of Iran’s rights to enrich uranium,” Rouhani said.

He repeated Iran’s right, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes (he claims) saying “Forty countries are doing enrichment. We want nothing less, nothing more.”

Rouhani: 'Not enough time' for Obama handshake

Updated