Maybe, just maybe, the icy relationship between the U.S. and Iran is beginning to melt.
President Obama disclosed over the weekend that he has personally reached out to Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.
Obama confirmed the two have exchanged letters in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, “And he’s reached out to me. We haven’t spoken directly.”
Of course, they’re hardly best friends. But any communication is a change from the longstanding silence that has for decades characterized Washington’s relationship with Tehran.
Obama said “negotiations with the Iranians are always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make that easy.”
According to The Guardian, Obama and Rouhani could meet face-to-face at the United Nations next week, while William Hague, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, is expected to meet with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif.
If in fact Obama and Rouhani do meet, it would be the first face-to-face interaction between a U.S. president and Iranian leader since the 1979 revolution in Iran.
While Rouhani has said he wants to repair Iran’s relationship with the West, there is some concern that Obama’s decision to put off military action in Syria embolden Iran to think the U.S. is all talk.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina criticized an accord between Secretary of John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to disarm Syria.
In a statement, the GOPers said U.S. allies and enemies would see the deal “as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part. We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.” They said the agreement is “meaningless” without the Security Council passing a resolution leaving military force on the table.
“Assad will use the months and months afforded to him to delay and deceive the world using every trick in Saddam Hussein’s playbook,” they said.
Obama, meanwhile, said the nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a higher priority than getting rid of chemical weapons in Syria—something Iran should keep in mind.
“My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [in Syria] to think that we won’t strike Iran. On the other hand, what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically,” said Obama.