Iran's president can't even find a way to shake an eager Obama's hand
WSJ Editorial, September 25, 2013
As diplomatic humiliations go, Hassan Rouhani's refusal to accept President Obama's offer of an informal "encounter" and historic photo-op at Tuesday's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly may not be the most consequential. But it is among the most telling.
This isn't the first time an Iranian president has left his U.S. counterpart cooling his heels at Turtle Bay. In 2000, Bill Clinton sought a meeting at a U.N. luncheon with then-Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, another reputed moderate, who also declined the opportunity of an American handshake.
Back then, the explanation for Mr. Khatami's refusal was that internal Iranian politics would not have allowed it. On Tuesday, a senior Obama Administration official peddled a similar line after the Rouhani snub, telling reporters that Iranians "have an internal dynamic that they have to manage."
For days before the U.N. conclave, White House aides had broadcast the President's desire to shake Mr. Rouhani's hand. By Monday, the press was overflowing with leaked accounts of where and how it would happen. Having thus turned down the lights and turned up the mood music, it made the snub that followed especially potent. What the Administration is trying to spin as a function of complex Iranian politics was, in blunt fact, an expression of lordly contempt for what Iranian leaders consider to be an overeager suitor from an unworthy nation.
The contempt showed even more strongly in Mr. Rouhani's speech. That came a few hours after Mr. Obama's morning speech, in which the American promised Iran that "we are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy."
To that olive branch, Mr. Rouhani responded by denouncing international sanctions as "violence, pure and simple," warning against the influence of "warmongering pressure groups" (no mystery as to who he has in mind there), and offering "time-bound" negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. As Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren has pointed out, the offer that talks should be "time-bound" makes no sense if Iran is sincere about never developing nuclear weapons. But Iran's record over three decades is that it is not sincere.
Politics in the normal sense doesn't exist in Tehran, where the rules are set and the players chosen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who is accountable to nobody. What Iran's leaders do understand is how to humiliate adversaries they consider to be weak. We hope Mr. Obama appreciates how he has been schooled.