White House says Obama won't meet with new Iranian leader

The White House is denying that President Obama has any intention of meeting with Iran's new president in what would be the first such encounter since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

British and Israeli media reported over the weekend that such a meeting could happen on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, is expected to address the world body on Sept. 24.

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“There are currently no plans for the president and President Rouhani to meet at UNGA,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told The Hill in an email.

In a message to the Iranian people after Rouhani's election in June, the Obama said it would be open to engaging “directly” on the issue of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. The two countries broke off diplomatic ties in 1980.

"As we have said, we hope that this new Iranian government will engage substantively in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” Meehan said. “We remain ready to engage with the Rouhani government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue."

Obama confirmed in an interview Sunday with ABC that his office has been in contact with Rouhani through the exchange of letters. The last-minute diplomatic effort to avoid a U.S. strike on Syria should help convince Iran that a peaceful solution is possible, Obama told "This Week."

“What they should draw from this lesson is there is a potential of resolving this issue diplomatically,” Obama said. 

“Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I don't think this new president is suddenly going to make it easy,” he said. “But my view is, if you have a credible threat of force combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, then, in fact, you can strike a deal. And I hold out that hope.”

The diplomatic outreach has split Congress.

Some 131 House members wrote to Obama in July urging him to “pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran's recent presidential election by reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement.” The House and Senate foreign affairs panels however are weighing further sanctions.

This story was updated at 1:32 p.m.

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