Iran‘s new reform-minded president, Hassan Rouhani, may meet Barack Obama in an informal, orchestrated encounter at the UN general assembly next week, amid signs of a rapidly softening stance in Tehran.
Rouhani will address the assembly on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after the traditional opening speech by the host president, Barack Obama – a symbolically important though coincidental confluence of scheduling that will highlight building hopes of a breakthrough in relations between the two powers. Observers will be watching to see whether the two leaders meet physically within the UN building in mid-town Manhattan, though the latest indication is that they might have a ceremonial greeting rather than a formal engagement.
The driving force for the apparent glasnost in approach in Tehran appears to be the on-going international sanctions that are extracting a heavy price on the Iranian economy. Geneive Abdo, a former Guardian Tehran correspondent who is now an Iran expert at the non-partisan think tank the Stimson Center, said the sanctions “have never been this deep or broad. Oil exports are plummeting and Iran can no longer participate in the international banking system which prevents it selling goods for hard currency.”
Abdo said there are indications the regime fears that prolonged economic hardship could instigate another round of popular protests such as the “green” unrest of 2009 which was then harshly crushed.
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