Iran rejected an offer for President Obama to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday at the United Nations, the White House said Tuesday.
Iranian diplomats told the U.S. that such a meeting was “too complicated for Iranians to do at this point,” according to a senior administration official.
Suzanne Maloney, an Iran researcher at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said a meeting posed significant risk for Rouhani, a new leader grappling with the anti-Americanism that remains a core tenant of Iran’s political culture.
“I don't think the moment is yet ripe for a handshake or any talks,” she said.
U.S. and Iranian officials had been discussing an informal meeting for days, with the Obama administration signaling they were open to the leaders having “an encounter" on the margins, according to the White House.
Rouhani was a no-show at a Tuesday luncheon for world leaders that appeared to be the best opportunity for a brief meeting. Had Obama and Rouhani met, it would have been the first such meeting between American and Iranian leaders since 1977.
According to CBS Radio, an aide to the United Nations told reporters in New York that Rouhani didn't RSVP to the luncheon, so there was no seat for the Iranian delegation.
Iran's Press TV reported that Rouhani skipped the meal because alcohol was being served at the event. Maloney said “there shouldn't be any disappointment” at the lack of a handshake meeting.
“I don't think you put your principal in front of a camera with a foreign advisory until, and unless, you can be quite confident you have a durable bargain, a deal that both parties are going to stand by,” she said.
Maloney added that the fact both leaders had endorsed discussions over Iran's nuclear program represented “quite a positive development.”
In his address to the U.N. on Monday, Obama said he had asked Secretary of State John Kerry to begin talks on Iran’s nuclear program. The talks would be aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
“I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama said. “For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential.”
— This story was posted at 2:19 p.m. and updated at 3:22 p.m.