UN General Assembly: Will US and Iran join hands for the first time since Jimmy Carter and the Shah?

Obama expected to be first US leader since 1978 to acknowledge an official from Tehran

New York

The hot-air emissions from the United Nations in Manhattan will reach critical levels this week, as it does every year when world leaders gather for the annual General Assembly, yet this time some genuine burning issues will be raising the temperature, among them Syria, Iran and the reborn Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

Certainly, every scholar of diplomacy will be parsing the words of the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, when he delivers his address on Tuesday. The endless loop of speeches from the podium will numb the mind. (David Cameron is not coming due to a certain party conference and his stand-in, Nick Clegg, as a non-head of Government, has a slot in the dog-eared hours of Friday.) But often it’s what happens beyond the chamber that matters. This week the world will watch for a particular pressing of palms in a corridor and a vote in a slightly more intimate venue, the Security Council.

The council is under intense pressure finally to adopt a resolution to enforce the framework US-Russian agreement on ridding Syria of chemical weapons. While diplomatic sources predict eventual success, though probably not until the week’s end, getting there will be tempestuous not least because it is now likely to be foreign ministers of the 15 member states who take the vote. Count among them Sergei Lavrov of Russia, who has accused the US of trying to “blackmail” him into agreeing a text that implies military action if Syria falls short. Facing him will be Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry. A toothless resolution will make the West look weak.

The Syria fight has been a baptism of fire for the newly arrived US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, an immigrant from Ireland (though British-born) and former journalist. In her old role as top foreign policy advisor, she lobbied President Barack Obama for months to consider military steps to stop the Syrian slaughter. Now that her boss has drawn back in favour of the plan to remove chemical weapons she must follow a more nuanced dance.

If Ms Power feels any discomfort at having her predecessor, Susan Rice, among the huge US presidential entourage that touched down at JFK airport at lunchtime on Monday, she will at least know that her first weeks in New York have left a mostly favourable impression with other delegations. It helps that Mr Obama ended up not firing missiles at Syria, a decision that was greeted by relief at UN headquarters.

Among the first to be able to gauge the sincerity of Iran’s recent moderate rhetoric, including on its disputed nuclear weapons programme, was Mr Hague. He met his new counterpart from Tehran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, for bilateral talks on Monday.

"There is a chance for improved relations with Iran if the statements of President Rouhani and foreign minister Zarif really mean something, if they really mean what they are saying" and their words "are matched by concrete steps and actions", Mr Hague said after the meeting adding that both sides had agrees to seek a quick resumption of international negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Hague said officials from both countries had also been told to begin examining the process for re-opening embassies in the respective countries. The British embassy in Tehran was overrun and closed in 2011 and Iran was told subsequently to close its London embassy.

In line before him was Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. “I was struck by the energy and determination the foreign minister demonstrated,” Lady Ashton said. To convince the doubters, another 80 political prisoners were released from jail.

Most tantalising is the expectation of a greeting today between Mr Rouhani and Mr Obama. Even if it is only a shaking of hands in a corridor, the ripples will be wide. Not since Jimmy Carter met the late Shah in 1977 has any US President acknowledged the existence of a counterpart from Tehran.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific