By Arun Kumar, Washington, Sep 24 IANS | 10 months ago

President Barack Obama Tuesday extended a hand to Iran, offering a diplomatic path to solve its nuclear issue amid speculation that he may follow it up with a historic handshake with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.


America's "difficult history" with Iran can't be overcome overnight as "the suspicion runs too deep", Obama told the UN General Assembly Tuesday but he did see an opportunity to take a "major step down a long road toward a different relationship".

"The road blocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe that the diplomatic path must be tested," Obama said.

And "if we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, that can serve as a major step down a long road toward a different relationship -- one based on mutual interests and mutual respect", he added.

Obama also told the annual gathering of world leaders that he is directing Secretary of State John Kerry to work with Iran's government on a diplomatic solution to the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.

"We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy," he said. "Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions."

Obama said he is "encouraged that President (Hassan) Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course".

He also noted that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and Rouhani "just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon".

"These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement," Obama said but warned "These words must be followed by actions that are transparent and verifiable".

Kerry will meet Thursday with Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif along with his counterparts from five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany negotiating to contain Iran's nuclear programme.

Thursday's meeting would be the first formal face-to-face session between top US and Iranian diplomats since the overthrow of pro-American Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi more than 34 years ago.

Meanwhile, all eyes were on whether Obama and Rouhani, who is set to address the UN session later Tuesday, will meet face-to-face for what Time magazine called "A Handshake that Could Shake the World".

"If Rouhani is able to pull off some direct contact with Obama, it would be a sign not only of his own thinking but of the domestic political climate in Iran," it said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

(Posted on 24-09-2013)