Obama won’t shake hands with Iranian president (today)

Olivier Knox
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR AVAAZ - Campaigners from the global advocacy group Avaaz, dressed as Presidents Obama and Rouhani, demand the two leaders negotiate a ceasefire to the Syrian crisis during the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York City. Avaaz has presented a petition supporting such talks signed by more than 1 million people worldwide. (Jonathan Fickies/AP Images for Avaaz)

President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hasan Rouhani, won’t be sharing a history-making handshake at the United Nations General Assembly this year after all, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

After days of frenzied will-they-or-won’t-they speculation, the prospects of the first (relatively friendly) face-to-face since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution fell prey to internal politics in Tehran, the officials told pool reporter Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal.

The White House had proposed “an encounter” on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York — something well shy of a formal sit-down meeting. But officials heard back on Tuesday that even a more low-key conversation was “too complicated for Iranians to do at this point,” according to one of the officials.

The officials — who spoke on condition that they not be identified by name — said Secretary of State John Kerry will go ahead with talks with his Iranian counterpart on resolving the tense standoff over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

But for Obama and Rouhani “there will be no meeting,” one U.S. official said.

After days of trying to work out the diplomatic logistics of even a casual grip-and-grin, "it was clear that it was too complicated for them," the official said.

"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," a senior administration official said.

That appeared to be a reference to the political power of hard-liners inside Iran.

The news came just a few hours after Obama said he was “encouraged” by Rouhani’s relatively conciliatory rhetoric since taking office and tasking Kerry with resuming the nuclear negotiations.