A new environment and a change of tone was the atmosphere of Hassan Rouhani’s debut visit as Iran’s new President to New York this week. Rouhani traveled from Tehran to take part in the 68th annual United Nations General Assembly and to kick start negotiations to resolve Iran’s long standing nuclear stand-off with the West, notably the United States.
As expected, the hottest ticket at the UNGA was for Rouhani himself, who made his debut speech as Iran’s new President. He started with a message of “yes to peace and no to war” and put forth his WAVE proposal, as in World Against Violence and Extremism. He echoed these messages throughout his five day trip, as he met with world leaders.
His last day in New York ended with a press conference and told reporters his visit had exceeded expectations.
However all week many had anticipated/obsessed there would be a face to face meeting between the Presidents of Iran and the US, or that the two men would spontaneously run into each other and shake hands while casually walking the crowded hallways of the United Nations. It never happened, despite both having addressed the UN General Assembly only hours apart.
When asked about why he didn’t meet with his US counterpart Barack Obama during his stay, the Iranian President said that there simply wasn’t enough time.
“In order to make this meeting come about and ensure that its conclusions would be solid, we felt in fact both sides that there wasn’t sufficient time, both sides were convinced as a result that the timetable we had was too short to plan a meeting of two Presidents,” he said.
What we didn’t know at the press conference was that US president Barack Obama would soon talk on the phone with his Iranian counterpart, making diplomatic history.
Shortly after leaving for the airport Hassan Rouhani sent this tweet to his followers:
As the tweet went viral, Iranians on Facebook and Twitter expressed overwhelming joy as tech-diplomacy unfolded before their eyes. Some said they were still waiting to see if the two presidents would “follow” each other.
Our handshake obsession didn’t stop at the two Presidents. When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry sat side by side at the P5+1 meeting, marking the highest-level talks between the US and Iran in decades, the first question asked was “did they shake hands?”
“It’s an official meeting, everyone shakes hands,” said Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister.
The Iranian president had based his campaign on transparency not only with the International Community but with the Iranian nation as well.
What many Iranians want to see come out of talks with the West is the easing of sanctions imposed on the country. During his address to the UN General Assembly Rouhani called sanctions inhumane and unjust, a reference to western sanctions against Iran.
“Contrary to the claims of those who pursue and impose them, it is not the states and the political elite that are targeted, but rather it is the common people who are victimized by these sanctions.”
During his press conference when asked about Iran’s troubled economy back home, a blunt and open Rouhani said the didn’t know the numbers were that bad and has promised the Iranian nation to release a report after his first 100 days in office.
“My government believes that while I am the president of Iran that all the figures should be provided to the people… fully, transparently, because I believe its necessary to build more confidence between the people and the government and to enable economists and other authorities in different sectors to be able to better plan and better coordinate for the future.”
“What I see today is a little worse than what I said or thought or existed before, but we are all hopeful about the future; our social and economic problems can be resolved,” he added.
US President Barack Obama mentioned Iran 26 times during his speech at the UNGA this year, often expressing strong willingness for diplomacy with Iran . The Iranian President said he was pleased with Washington‘s change of tone.
For years the Iranian President’s motorcade would leave for the airport with what many would call another missed opportunity. After decades of much of the same, for the first time the departure sparked a sense of cautious optimism for charm diplomacy. The next few weeks will determine how effective these historic and diplomatic measures really were. “The Iranians are putting everything on the table, if there was ever a time for a breakthrough, it’s now,” said a western diplomat. “There’s no turning back.”
Susan Modaress covered the 68th Annual United Nations General Assembly and its sidelines in New York. This post has been featured in The Daily Journalist