Thaw in relations between Iran and the US
Meeting hailed as breakthrough towards finding solution to long-running nuclear deadlock between the countries
Iran’s President Hassan Rohani addresses a meeting on nuclear disarmament at UN headquarters on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters/Mike Segar
How significant was this week’s rapprochement between the US and Iran at the United Nations?
The last time relations between the United States and Iran were this good Superman was the US box office number one, the Village People had a UK number one hit with YMCA and Jack Lynch was Taoiseach.
Despite much anticipation amongst the media in New York, there was no historic handshake or first meeting between the leaders of the US and Iran at the United Nations general assembly this week.
The White House said they offered the chance of “an encounter” between Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and US president Barack Obama but the Iranians declined the invite, saying it would be “too complicated,” seemingly too great a step for the fervently anti-American radical clerics back in Iran.
But there was a first. On Thursday, at a seven-nation meeting Iran and the US held their first substantial high-level meeting since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled America’s ally, the Shah of Iran. It was hailed as a breakthrough towards finding a solution to the long-running nuclear deadlock between the countries.
The sight of a smiling US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, sitting next to each other, at the UN headquarters might be the start of the thaw in three decades of frozen relations between the two countries. Afterwards they spoke privately for more than 20 minutes.
Their photograph is not as iconic as the images of American diplomats being marched blind-folded out of US embassy in Tehran in 1979 to be held hostage for 444 days, an incident Americans were reminded of in this year’s Oscar-winning movie Argo. But the meeting appears to be a start toward repaired relations.
In the run-up to the New York gathering Rouhani, a moderate, had reached out the hand of friendship to Americans, making conciliatory noises that Iran had no plans to develop a nuclear weapon.
Speaking at the UN, Mr Obama was cautiously optimistic about Iran’s diplomatic departure but warned that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”
The Iranian president later in the week called for the destruction of all nuclear weapons. “The world has waited too long to disarm,” he said. “As long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat of their use exists.”
The Americans and Iranians will meet again for two days in Geneva on October 15th. The steps taken toward a full reconciliation were small in New York this week but the inches covered marked important new ground.