White House insiders fear that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani turned down a brief meeting proposed for Tuesday with President Obama to avoid a domestic political backlash, possibly signaling that the relatively moderate leader lacks adequate authority in Tehran to settle an international standoff over its suspected nuclear-arms ambitions, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Washington officials on Tuesday conferred at a "working level" with Iranian counterparts to orchestrate a brief encounter between the leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, but "it became clear that that was too complicated for [the Iranians] at this time," a high-level Obama insider told reporters on Tuesday.
Rouhani gave a speech reaffirming his country's determination to continue enriching uranium for peaceful use, even though Washington and other governments worry Tehran could harness the process to generate bomb fuel. Earlier on Tuesday, Obama urged Tehran to abide by U.N. Security Council demands for Iran to fully suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Obama insiders told the Journal that Rouhani's address did not catch them off guard. "Iran has a baseline set of positions they have taken for a long time," one high-level source said. "We would not expect them to shift their negotiations publicly."
Meanwhile, the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called for a "time limit" on any new nuclear discussions with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Tehran would stress its "right of enrichment on Iranian territory" in any new meeting, spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham added.
Iran's top diplomat and delegates from the six negotiating governments are expected on Thursday to consider the "trend" of prior meetings, the spokeswoman said, adding that "an agreement has been struck to continue the talks in mid-October in Geneva."