By Justin Sink - 09/25/13 06:00 PM EDT
President Obama was not disappointed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's decision to reject an offer for an informal meeting Tuesday at the United Nations, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
The White House spokesman refused to "delve into analysis of Iranian politics" and speculate why Rouhani had opted against a meeting but did caution that watchers should not "over-interpret" the snub.
"Even if something like that had happened, that is less significant than if the Iranians demonstrate a seriousness of purpose" on a nuclear weapons deal, Carney said.
He reiterated the White House was looking for "verifiable actions" that would "relieve the international community's concerns" about Iran's weapons program. But Carney warned, the window "will not be open indefinitely" to strike a deal that removed crippling economic sanctions.
"The onus is on Iran to demonstrate it is serious about complying with its international obligations," Carney said.
On Tuesday, a senior administration official said Iranian diplomats had indicated a face-to-face meeting between Obama and Rouhani was "too complicated."
“The Iranians have an internal dynamic that they have to manage, and the relationship with the United States is clearly quite different than the relationship that Iran has with other Western nations,” the official said.
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 [direct] talks,” she said.
In his speech to the United Nations Tuesday, President Obama said he was directing Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue negotiations with Tehran in what would be the highest-level talks since the 1970s.
Rouhani indicated a willingness to engage in those negotiations during his speech later in the day.
"Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions," he said. "Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program."