Iran's president Hassan Rouhani dashes hopes of historic meeting with Barack Obama

US President also tells United Nations General Assembly he has approved discussions with Iran over nuclear weapons

New York

President Barack Obama has cautiously embraced the recent advances by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on mending fences and re-opening talks on its nuclear programme but hopes of a historic meeting between the two men on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly vanished when Iran declined.

Emphasising signs of diplomatic thaw on several fronts in the Middle East, Mr Obama also said the ‘time was ripe’ for progress in reborn Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Separately, he also urged the Security Council to overcome its divisions and adopt a resolution to enforce a US-Russian agreement on ridding Syria of chemical arms.

In his fifth speech at the UN as president, Mr Obama welcomed the “more moderate course” articulated by Mr Rouhani who took office in August and said he had instructed his Secretary of State, John Kerry, to begin talks with Iran on resuming nuclear talks. But officials from the White House said an offer by them of a meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Rouhani in New York had been rebuffed. “It was too complicated for them,” one official said.

But on both Iran and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Mr Obama notably lingered on the possibilities of diplomatic progress. “Real breakthroughs on these two issues … would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa,” Mr Obama said. The emphasis on diplomacy was striking coming just weeks after Mr Obama was threatening strikes on Syria.

Noting the long hiatus in Iran-US relations, Mr Obama sounded caution. “I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight, the suspicions run too deep,” he said. The recent conciliatory words of Mr Rouhani, he said, “will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.” But he added: “The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”

Taking the podium, Mr Rouhani said that “Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region”. But he stopped far short of mere conciliation and spoke of the instincts of a “few actors” seeking domination through military action. Without mentioning the United States or its recent threats against Syria, he said: “The current critical period of transition in international relations is replete with dangers albeit with unique opportunities…  a mistake by one actor will have negative impact on all others. At this sensitive juncture in the history of global relations the age of zero sum game is over. Even over a few actors still tend to rely on deeply archaic ways of old superiority and domination. Militarism and the use of  violence and military means to subjugate are failed examples of the perpetuation of old ways in new circumstances."

Mr Obama used his speech also to give his personal backing to the entirely fragile new negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians early in the summer by Mr Kerry. Talks were set between President Obama and Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, for late Tuesday in New York while Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel will travel to the White House next week.

“The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace,” Mr Obama said of Israel and Palestine. “President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners, and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state,” he said. “Now the rest of us must also be willing to take risks.”

On Syria, Mr Obama did not hide his frustration with the slow going in the Security Council on a resolution to move the chemical weapons accord forward.  “If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the UN is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws,” he said. “On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.”

And without mentioning Russia by name, he chided “allies” of Assad for attempting to argue that the 21 August attack was not the work of his regime. “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other the regime carried out this attack,” Mr Obama said. 

Mr Obama insisted the US had no interest in empire-building in the Middle East or attempting again, as it did in Iraq, to impose democracy by military force.  On Syria, he noted; “We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists.” 

With Israel in particular suspicious of Iran’s motives, Mr Obama acknowledged a continuing wariness. The recent conciliatory words of Mr Rouhani, “will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable,” he said. Nonetheless, there will now be a bright spotlight on talks scheduled on the fringes of the Assembly here on Thursday between Mr Kerry and his new Iranian opposite number, Mohammed Javad Zarif. They will be expected to set a date for new talks between Iran and five world powers on the nuclear dossier. Even before Mr Obama spoke, Mr Zarif took to Twitter, proclaiming: “We have a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue. 5+1 needs to adjust its posture commensurate with the new Iranian approach.”

Michelle helps Barack to kick smoking habit

President Barack Obama says he hasn’t had a smoke in years – thanks in no small part to first lady Michelle Obama.

Mr Obama was caught on camera chatting privately with a UN official on Monday about quitting smoking. The exchange was then aired on CNN.

When asked about his own cigarette use, Mr Obama said he hadn’t had a cigarette in probably six years.

He added, with a broad grin, “That’s because I’m scared of my wife.”

AP

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online

Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:TEACHERS REQUIREDWe are...

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistant ...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?