Entangled as he is, in a government shutdown in its fifth day, President Barack Obama devoted only a marginal portion of his interview with the Associated Press Saturday to his diplomatic outreach to Iran, in an attempt to bring an end to Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. A week or so after Obama’s phone conversation with President Hassan Rouhani—the first direct talk between American and Iranian leaders in more than 30 years, some of the initial excitement appears to have given way to pragmatism.
“Rouhani has staked his position on the idea that he can improve relations with the rest of the world,” Obama told the AP. “And so far he’s been saying a lot of the right things. And the question now is, can he follow through?”
Obama acknowledged that Rouhani is not Iran’s only “decision-maker. He’s not even the ultimate decision-maker,” he added, alluding to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Israel and other countries have questioned whether Rouhani’s public relations effort represents real change in Iran’s leadership.
The supreme leader Khamenei himself said on Saturday that he supports Rouhani’s attempts at moving closer to the West, but said that the U.S. leader is “untrustworthy, arrogant, illogical and a promise-breaker.”
He could probably win if he ran on a Republican ticket in most southern and mid-western states…
“We support the movement in the government’s diplomacy, including the New York visit, since we hold trust in the government and we are optimistic about it, but some of what happened in the New York visit were not proper because we believe the U.S. administration is untrustworthy, conceited, illogical and unfaithful to its pledges,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, addressing a cadets graduation ceremony in Tehran on Saturday.
Obama was careful to distance U.S. assessments of when Iran might have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon from what Israel is predicting. Israeli officials have been saying that Iran is a mere months away from building a bomb, but Obama said today that Tehran is at least a year away from having that capability.
The president used the same time frame last March, before his visit to Israel.
The Fars News agency reported that, in their phone conversation, Presidents Rouhani and Obama stressed the necessity for mutual cooperation on different regional issues. Then Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary Kerry were commissioned to begin follow up talks between the two countries.
“But after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, the US president made a U-turn, and said that ‘we take no options off the table, including military options,’” Fars complained, saying this “revealed the U.S. administration’s lack of independence and decision-making power.”
Oh, Bibi, Bibi, why must you rule so harshly over poor President Obama…