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Obama And Rouhani At The U.N. — A Diplomatic Opening With Iran?

President Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. Is there a real diplomatic opening with Iran?

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. (AP)

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. (AP)

They didn’t shake hands.  They didn’t break bread.  They didn’t even see each other at the United Nations in New York yesterday.  But President Obama and Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani have a new kind of interaction going on.

No talk of military threat “on the table.”  No talk of wiping Israel off the map.  And a first top-tier US-Iran sit-down on Iran’s nuclear program in years scheduled for tomorrow.

There’s a charm offensive.  A change in tone.  Maybe a way out of nukes, Syria, threat of war.  Is it real?

This hour, On Point:  the US and Iran’s “diplomacy moment.”

- Tom Ashbrook


Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press. (@jpacedc)

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of the Middle East Studies Program at Syracuse University. President of the International Society for Iranian Studies.

Farideh Farhi, professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has also taught at the University of Tehran.

Patrick Clawson, director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Iran Security Initiative.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: Obama Says He Will Pursue Diplomacy on Iran and Syria – “President Obama said on Tuesday that Iran’s diplomatic overture in recent weeks could provide a foundation for an agreement on its nuclear program, but he warned that ‘conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.’”

Politico: Rouhani declines to meet Obama at United Nations General Assembly – “President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will not meet at the United Nations on Tuesday, senior administration officials said. The White House had offered to have ‘an encounter’ between the two leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, but Iranian officials ultimately declined.”

The Guardian: Rouhani’s visit to UN is unique chance for west and Iran, says Khatami – “In an article published in the Guardian today, Khatami, a former president of Iran, said on the eve of Rouhani’s eagerly anticipated visit to the UN that the moderate cleric had ‘the necessary authority’ for a diplomatic resolution to the longstanding differences between Tehran and the west, not least on the nuclear issue. He warned that failure would strengthen extremists on both sides.”


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  • brettearle

    Hard to take `serious’ negotiations, terribly `seriously’–from a nation that had a President, recently, who unceremoniously questioned the accuracy of the Holocaust…..

    [Doesn't mean we are to be 100% close-minded about it. But such pathetic comments must give one giant pause.]

    • JobExperience

      Look out, Israeli leaders will be denying the Holocaust next, and claiming they defeated Hitler and Stalin single-handed. Nukes are a powerful hallucinogens.

      • brettearle

        Simply explain to us your true intent, with your comment above:

        Hatred of Nuclear Weapons?
        Or dislike of something else?

        Do you have the Courage to be honest?

      • brettearle

        I can see that you do NOT have the Courage to respond, do you, sir?

        You hide behind ironic allusions, sir–without proper explanation.

        You have fallen prey to your own political cowardice, haven’t you sir?

        You’re not Man enough to explain, yourself…. isn’t that so, Sir?

    • thequietkid10

      I think the Iranian government deserves to be judged based on the guy in power now, (to the extent that he actually has power) as opposed to the guy he replaced. Just like President Obama should be judged independently of President Bush.

      • brettearle

        Ahmadenijad took signals and cues from the current Totalitarian Theocracy in power.

        The thinking of the Iranian government hasn’t changed.

        And, if you think so, you might, potentially, be practicing a form of Neville Chamberlain-ism.

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    There is a strong natural gas and oil smell. Is anyone else smelling it ?

    I am sensing and noticing “actions” in the markets, also. Words like, “private placement” are being used (as in ’ dilution of current owners voting power and asset share‘) . Billionaire Chinese investors are buying in. Everyone is positioning themselves.

    Can I get an echo ?

    • alsordi

      Yes, along with a strong smell of sulfur after Obama left the podium. The American hypocrisy was embarrassing.

  • Bluejay2fly

    I remember years ago NPR did a program on Iran and how the majority of the population were not religious extremists and many actually liked the US. Maybe Iran is moving towards secularization and away from it’s recent past. I never would have guessed in 1988 the Soviet Union would be dead in 3 years. These things sometimes move very quickly.

    • Coastghost

      And who knows what the quality of the local opium is these days? At least as recently as ten years ago, Iran had (seems still to have) the world’s highest number of opium addicts, two million over the age of 15.
      Most of this consumption is of unrefined product: opium or opium paste smeared on tobacco or cigarette paper, that kind of thing, or steeped with strong tea or served with food: few if any Keef Richards emulators, except maybe in the cities. Something like three percent of the population avails itself routinely of whatever grows in Iran (or next-door Afghanistan). Comparable in its way to South American aboriginals chewing on raw coca leaf as an analgesic (I guess pharmacologically opium can count as an analgesic). Otherwise, it’s a grave social ill not even the Islamic Republic has been able to, errr, weed out.

      • JobExperience

        The moderator thinks it best that I do not state it in the vernacular , but the above is to me a textbook illustration of mobilization of bias for racist sub-speciation. Translation: Iran is the hood.

        • Coastghost

          Your veiled locution makes me wonder whether the moderator is sticking up for me for a change: my argument concerns the use of a locally available drug which owing to its abundance is subject to grave abuse, considering the power of the drugs in question. I don’t damn the Iranians for their rates of opium addiction, nor do I look down on South American natives for resorting to coca consumption: but both populations face distinct challenges dealing with consumption.

          • JobExperience

            Too much pistachios ?
            Persians= Back underclass works only if one is racist.

          • Coastghost

            And the ready imputation of racism stems from (over-)consumption of what?
            Spare me your hyperbolic thought-policing, if you please. Then, get a life.
            (Perhaps possibly maybe I just sympathize with Greeks and Byzantines . . . )

  • John Cedar

    After being upstaged by Rodman and Putin, he sees his last chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the third world nation preemptive peacenik prize awarders, and as a bonus it is a distraction from the buffoonery of his administration.

    • jimino

      I’m old enough to remember when right-wingers didn’t root for the commies and totalitarian dictators instead of their own country.

      And they claim to be the true patriots. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

      • JobExperience

        True parrots; more like.

    • brettearle

      And so tell me, sir, have you seen Obama’s Birth certificate, as well?

      Is it a fraud?

      Should he be deported, sir, like some have suggested his uncle and aunt should be?

      And, sir, isn’t it a fact that you have secretly filmed Bill Ayers, portaging around Georgetown, the pre-coded nuclear suitcase, ready to blow up the world, because the House is ignoring the Progressives’ agenda?

      Isn’t it a fact, sir, that you HAVE filmed this?

  • alsordi

    Not surprising Netanyahu raised the term “Honey Trap”… which is the Mossad’s weapon of choice….even against its own allies.

    • J__o__h__n

      Who knew the international Jewish conspiracy was behind the Lewinsky incident? Were Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones Jewish too?

      • JobExperience

        After Bubba finished with them they wuz.

      • alsordi

        Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones were actually Bill Clinton’s qualifications and requisite skeletons to obtain the support from powerful lobbies.

        It meant he was a compromised politician who could be easily controlled via extortion, coercion and blackmail to do the bidding of powerful contributors…. or else the scandal ends up on the Drudge Report.

        • brettearle

          Prove it.

          Prove that this is the way it would work.

          You have a fantasy about how headlines in the Enquirer become Reality TV.

    • brettearle

      Veiled threat?

      Explain to us what sort of political clout you think that Bibi has, that he can actually launch some sort of intimidation campaign in Washington.

      • JobExperience

        Bibi has nuclear and chemical weapons, and other mass destruction stuff. Oil reserves are the biggest honey trap of all.

        • brettearle

          I don’t think you’re being explicit enough.

          Do you actually believe that Netanyahu has enough political clout–regardless of Oil Reserves in the Middle East and regardless of WMD resources that Israel has?

      • alsordi

        Bibi’s use of the term “Honey Trap” in this context make’s no sense. However, using it in the context of a threat against a US politician (hopefully not Obama) who has been compromised in a “honey trap” is quite relevant… ie. Bill Clinton, and Jim McGreevy, ex governor of NJ who appointed his Israeli gay lover as head of the state Homeland Security. But his gay lover turned out to be a Mossad agent. That’s a Honey Trap and stop being so naive as to the clout such a trap would have, and has had, on US politics.

        • brettearle

          Secret dalliances do NOT control Nuclear Destiny.

          It’s ridiculous to think otherwise.

          “And stop being so naive as to the clout such a trap would have on [NUCLEAR] politics.”

  • Coastghost

    Tom Ashbrook: play the recording of Obama’s citation of the US’s international partners as it pursues diplomacy with Iran: I think I heard him cite clearly “the EU, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China”–and I think he did NOT explicitly mention Israel.
    What if anything does that signify? what does it bear upon US-Iranian relations and US-Israeli relations?

    • Don_B1

      It is the list of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, plus Germany, the other leading state of the E.U.! It is the necessary states to approve sanctions, etc.

  • Yar

    Why would Iran want to be considered a nuclear power? Because we treat nuclear powers differently. We work to stabilize the regimes that have nuclear technology. It is an international insurance policy against local uprising. The problem with Iran is that Israel will attack to prevent them from getting one.

    • JobExperience

      Pakistan (and Israel too sh-h-h-h) is an expensive proposition.
      Can the USA afford another?
      Even nuclear power is a liability.
      Help Japan, they just pooped their pants.

  • brettearle

    Iran wishes to protect its regional security?

    Has this guest forgotten that Iran has made public statements, indicating that it wants to see Israel DESTROYED?

    • JobExperience

      Are you Likud or Labour?
      Did you get any Palestinian real estate yet?
      Ask your Congressman for a house.

  • MB_from_MASS

    Why is Patrick Clawson incapable of correctly pronouncing the word “nuclear”?

    • JobExperience

      He inherited a Bush gene.

      • Bluejay2fly

        What a tragedy.

      • Coastghost

        Your ear is sure it’s not a Carter gene?

        • Bluejay2fly

          Carter was a combat veteran not a coward who went AWOL. He also warned us about materialism unlike Bush who told us consumption was patriotic.

          • Coastghost

            As a nukiah engineer, Carter also was notoriously incapable of pronouncing “nuclear” (vs. Bush’s “nucular”).

          • MB_from_MASS

            No – Carter was simply speaking with an accent which dropped the “r” from the end of the word. Bush and others (who for some strange reason always seem to be conservatives) completely mispronounce a very simple word. It’s odd.

          • Bluejay2fly

            The only accent Bush had was stupidity.

          • Coastghost

            I’m from South Carolina, and I never heard the “ell” in Carter’s enunciation of “nuclear”. Never, not once.

          • Bluejay2fly

            Carter was from a different state in a different era. It is said that the southern accent was more pronounced after the War of Northern Aggression. Language is constantly evolving.

          • JobExperience

            …and a different class; planters.

            Bush “was” a transplant with variable speech.

          • JobExperience

            The SC origin partially explains your pov.

          • Coastghost

            Indeed it does, at least partially: I claim some legitimate mitigation insofar as my mother was a New York native.

          • JobExperience

            Bush also pronounced ‘seniors’ as “seen-yours” as code for gutting entitlements. Nihilists were greatly entertained and fear was augmented. On “Nuke-u-liar”, Bush was capable of the variant ‘nuclear’ when referring to the ideal consumer family, with earning daddy present.

  • curtcpeterson

    Benjamin Netanyahu has retained political power and position by
    instilling and maintaining fear among Israelis – fear of Palestinian
    “terrorists”, but more significantly, fear of Iran. While Iran’s
    influence in the Middle East has flourished, Hassan Rouhani, the new
    president of Iran, has made public overtures to the West offering to
    negotiate agreements regarding many past disagreements, threats and
    political feuds. It is interesting to see how the two leaders, Barack
    Obama and Bibi Netanyahu have responded.
    While Obama has to deal
    with a minority of right-wing hawks who see the US as a global
    Mafia-style godfather, public reaction to the Syrian crisis has
    demonstrated that Americans on the whole are much more interested in
    finding peace than in imposing our will in the region. He has treated
    Rouhani’s greeting with respect, support and openness.
    Netanyahu, on the other hand, senses impending loss of power with any easing of the “Iranian
    threat” he has so carefully cultivated. Watch him as he tries to
    characterize Iran’s “new stance” as “delay”, “obfuscation”, “not to be
    trusted” and “suspicious”.
    In my opinion everyone everywhere will
    be better off when Netanyahu and the belligerent parties in Israel are
    out of power for good, and, if Rouhani’s overtures accomplish only that
    much the world will be a better place.
    If the US and Israel are
    worried about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, they could both offer to
    destroy their own nuclear arsenals (and in our case, stop developing
    new nuclear weapons) as a gesture. We are the only nation that has
    actually been crazy enough to use “the bomb”, and Netanyahu is certainly
    a candidate to become number two. Once these two powers are disarmed
    the rest of the world, including Iran, can forget about nuclear

    • noslack2327

      Sir, you are correct about Israel, and especially Bibi. Israel is a country founded by three terrorist groups- Irgun , Haganah, and the Stern Gang. The Israeli polity elected two Prime Ministers from the ranks of those despicable organizations.

      • brettearle

        Please sir…..

        Where is your next course in Middle East studies, sir?

        Please sir, I want more…..

        Where can we all sign up, sir, so that we all can be Enlightened?

        We all have a desperate desire, sir, to bask in your wisdom.

        What is that course NUMBER, sir?


        • noslack2327

          I told you on another occasion to move to Israel. You obviously prefer it to the United States of America, don’t you? (‘Fess up, now – go ahead. At least be honest with yourself.)

          • brettearle

            The Israelis would be happy to place you in a Kibbutz and make a real man out of you.

          • noslack2327

            I certainly don’t need the likes of you to demonstrate my manhood. I proved it in the jungles of Vietnam. You never served in the U.S. military though, did you? You are content to live in this country with other people such as the crew of the U.S.S. Liberty defending this country for you. Move to Israel. You have no right to live here.

  • brettearle

    In a world where competition for natural resources and sovereign economies are in very fragile states, if one country has WMD doesn’t mean another should have WMD–especially if the country, without WMDs, has made public threats of annihilation, against another country.

    • Bluejay2fly

      Against OUR will Israel has built nuclear weapons and we did nothing. If we cannot control our friends what chance do we have telling our enemies what to do.

      • brettearle

        Don’t know where you’re getting your information.

        It has been generally understood, for decades, that Israel received the original means, to build a nuclear weapons system, from the United States.

        It was NOT AGAINST OUR WILL.

        • Bluejay2fly

          Going as far back as President Kennedy and to a lesser extent Johnson the US has opposed Israel acquiring a weapon. The Washington Post wrote a very nice article last august about this subject. Since the Nixon administration when Israel did build the bomb its been a dead issue. Israel DOES NOT ADMIT to having nuclear weapons and such has not signed the nuclear proliferation treaty. We do not press the issue because of the volatile nature of the subject. I am far from an expert on the subject but from what I always understood to be the case it was France that helped with the creation of Israel’s first nuclear. Our Official stance has been not to support their endeavor to build a nuclear arsenal. Tragically, we have given them hundreds of Billions of US Taxpayer dollars in military aid (FMS) which has been our official US policy even though cities like Detroit descend into abject poverty.

          • brettearle

            You’re referring to a Walter Pincus article in the Post.

            Pincus CONFIRMS US connections to Israel’s nuclear program.

            It is true that France had been Israel’s original progenitor. But there has always been speculation that for this original venture France was a “wholly-owned subsidiary.”

            Your view of drainage, away from the needy in this country, could be said for hundreds of disbursements and allocations, away from US poverty within our country’s own borders.

            You could make the case for pulling back everywhere, throughout the Globe.

            Why isolate Israel as a financial liability for the US?


            The US has allegiances to political systems similar to our own–such as, for example, Taiwan.

            Israel is not simply strategically located but it is surrounded by enemies or former enemies.

            At least symbolically, pulling away from Israel, financially, would make Israel appear weaker.

            What’s more, with less of a rationale or stake in the region makes the US less exercised about protecting its own oil interests for its allies such as Japan.

            The strategic and the ideological commitments are too deep.

            Israel has the right to Exist. And the US aims to keep it that way.

            If the US pulls out, tensions would grow.

            And, under those conditions and circumstances, I think you would see Israel as much more of a dangerous power, who might feel backed into a corner, to the point where it would more likely engineer a pre-emptive strike.

          • Bluejay2fly

            Very well said and I believe we should have departed the world stage at the close of the Cold War (Our defense contractors would have had a fit). Let nations whose back yards will be affected by the instability deal with these problems and not the USA. We have lost tens of thousands of our own citizens to crime and millions more to poverty. However, as many of them are black and hispanic people really do not care. It is a terrible thing to give away money that should have been spent elsewhere but it is more insane to do so while running a 16 trillion dollar deficit. In WW2 it was not our military (it was tiny in 1941) but our industrial capacity that helped save the day. Pretending debt and a crumbling middle class is not a larger security problem is ridiculous. We are becoming more and more like the former USSR a midget with a huge right arm.

  • rich4321

    I am glad President Obama came to his sense, not to repeat the
    belligerent, bulling tone of the G.W. era.

    • thequietkid10

      I would be careful to give President Obama too much credit. He is at best a reluctant warrior, at worst he was boxed into this position by widespread bipartisan outrage and an gaff by Secretary of State Kerry.

  • MB_from_MASS

    A quote from Clawson in September 2012 relating his opinion that the US should provoke a war with Iran:

    “One can combine other means of pressure with sanctions. I mentioned that explosion on August 17th. We could step up the pressure. I mean look people, Iranian submarines periodically go down, some day one of them might not come up, who would know why? We can do a variety of things if we wish to increase the pressure… We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier.”

  • noslack2327

    We should never, never, never influence the foreign policy of the United States out of concern for Israel, a nuclear power(!). If the Israelis are interested in peace they should get out of the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem.

    • Bluejay2fly

      Our obsession with international affairs has left us with disgraces like Detroit and the death of the American dream.

  • MB_from_MASS

    Patrick Clawson is just another typical right wing hawk who favors a strong-arm stance aimed at US domination over and control of the region.

  • Anita Wilt

    Our President needs to make it unmistakeably clear that Iran’s ‘trust cup’ (as we say in our home) is completely empty! It takes time and trust building actions to refill the cup, not just words.

    Also, for western thinkers, it is important to remember that ‘saving face’ is much more important to this cultural area than honesty and reason. If we understood this, we would not be so surprised at the outright lies and we might actually come up with a more effective strategy in dealing with them.

  • AC

    are they and Syria the only Shiite (Shia?) controlled countries? if so, how can we learn to trust them? i do not believe in ANY system that was ‘chosen’ specifically by God ….

  • Polychrome

    Our U.S. government need to respect International Law, rather than to defend the foreign government of Israel which continually breaks it. Any attack on Iran or Syria would be illegal, as well as immoral.

    Patrick Clawson’s organization, WINEP, is part of the Israel Lobby, which now pushes the US to bomb both Syria and Iran–with untold terrible consequences for the world. Iran has signed the NPT, but Israel has not and has 2-300 nuclear bombs built with material stolen from the U.S.
    Tom, you need to identify P Clawson as part of the Israel lobby, which continually flouts the law requiring it to register as an agent of a foreign government.


    • Bluejay2fly

      Well said.

    • Layla

      I agree. Well said, Polychrome. Tom, I hope you take the comment seriously. People are listening and they need to know and get the whole picture.

  • AC

    that was an odd thing to say. sort of passive aggressive.

  • sickofthechit

    Everyone should watch the September 18, 2013 Charlie Rose interview with Ehud Barak beginning at the 19 minute mark. Ehud gives a remarkable explanation of what is going on and the possibilities that are unfolding in Syria, Israel, Russia, Iran and the Mideast. It’s only about ten minutes, but totally worth watching if you want some hope for the future. The whole interview is worth watching, but I know you are pressed for time. charles a. bowsher

    I think you can get to it this way? Sorry if I am wrong

    Video Link
    Embed Code


  • thequietkid10

    It’s funny, first time I heard about the nuclear Iran threat was in 2003. The acquisition of the a nuclear weapon by Iran has been “imminent” for the past several years. And now that we don’t have gigantic armies on both their eastern and western boarders they have less incentive than they have had in 15 years to build a nuclear weapon. Maybe, just maybe at some point we should take them seriously about not wanting to build a nuclear weapon.

  • hennorama

    One is reminded of the Russian proverb (appropriated by President/Saint Ronald Reagan ), which says – “Доверяй но Проверяй.” Phonetically, this is “Doveryay no Proveryay” (Trust but Verify).

    The Russian proverb is nicely rhythmic, and its pronunciation is available on multiple sites, such as:


  • notafeminista

    Why would we assume Iran is bluffing? Based on what evidence exactly?

  • marygrav

    Americans had better grow up politically and get wise to science. Who needs an atomic bomb? If you listen to OPR on a regular basis, you should have heard David Sanger on Obama’s Secret War. Cyber Warfare is the warfare of the present and the future. You have to maintain a bomb like a baby and make sure it does not leak. That is our problem: too many old leaking atomic weapons with no place to store them.

    Iran has no evidence on which to trust the United States. 1953 is the evidence. The US is an imperialistic/colonizer that wants and does shape the world in its own image since 1945.

    The President of the United States first duty is to the American people, not to Israel or any other nation state in the Middle East. Israel has its own agenda as to not wanting a 2 state solution or its seems peace in general. We have been down this road too many times with Netanyahu and his right-wing governments.

    When I hear Iranian-Americans bad mouthing Iran and its intentions, I pay not attention because people seek refuge in the US just to throw bombs back into the home country. We were tricked wars by the propaganda by disgruntled “foreigners” before talking about how they had fled the oppression of their government just to come over here to oppress US.

    Iran needs nuclear medicine because of the irrateated bullets that the Iraq and the US used in its Middle East invasions that has caused so much cancer in the population.

    The Neocons always want war and never peace. They want Americans to believe that all the Natives are unreasonable in their outlook. The need Eurocentric leaders to lead them out of their world of darkness. This racist outlook is why there is no peace in the Middle East.

    Clawson wants US to believe that Iran is the only state with a secret atomic lab. What about Israel’s. And what about French president Sarcozy following Bush around the Middle East selling Atomic Reactors to all the Arab states. In The UAE he not only sold reactors but also established permanent military bases there also. France is never innocent, and neither is Israel.

    Atomic Warfare is a thing of the past, and both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu know this. The only people who do not understand this are the American people who are too lazy to read and prefer to live in fear.

    • Layla

      I could not have said it any better. Thank you marygrav

  • GuestAug27

    Saddam Hussein lesson: government of any country in the world is subject to “regime change” by the U.S. unless it HAS some nasty WMDs. (If Saddam did have them, he would still be around.)

    Given how, in the recent past, Iran was treated by the U.S. or by the local thugs sponsored by the U.S. (e.g. being gassed by Saddam Hussein when he was still our friend), Iranian government would be crazy not to want nukes.

  • Causal

    This hour is missing from my podcasts (something that has been happening a lot recently). Is there some reason for this hour not being podcasted or posted for download?

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