Barack Obama has revealed that he has exchanged letters with the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. The US president told ABC news that the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian issue backed with military threats may be a model for negotiations over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. He did not disclose any details of the message that he sent to Rouhani. He did say, however, that Iran's potential for nuclear weapons is a "much bigger issue" than Syria's chemical weapons.
Although Obama and Rouhani are scheduled to deliver a speech on the same day at the UN General Assembly next week there is no plan for a meeting between them.
Obama has said that Iran should not think that the United States would not launch a military strike in response to Tehran's nuclear program because it did not attack Syria. "What the Iranians should conclude from this lesson is that there is a possibility for diplomacy to resolve these issues."
Rouhani is viewed as a relative moderate and has issued statements which suggest an intention to come to terms with Washington. However, Obama doubts that his Iranian counterpart "will suddenly facilitate" negotiations. "My opinion is that if you have a credible threat of using force mixed with a strong diplomatic effort you will in fact conclude a deal."
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted that the United States hopes for real participation from the Iranian government in order to reach a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue. "We are still ready for dialogue with Rouhani's government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue," she insisted.
During the ABC interview, Obama rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims that the Syrian opposition was responsible for the chemical attack last month which prompted the recent crisis. Nevertheless, the US president welcomed the diplomatic role played by Russia.
"I think Mr. Putin has an important leading role in this regard, despite the many differences between us," Obama said. "Therefore, I welcome his intervention, and I welcome his statement that he will be responsible to force Syrian President Bashar Assad regime to deal with the chemical weapons." He added that there is nobody in the world who takes seriously the possibility that the opposition fighters used the chemical weapons in August.
Obama defended his approach to the Syrian crisis, arguing that the steps he had taken had pushed Assad to acknowledge his regime's possession of chemical weapons, and pushed Syria's main ally Russia to put pressure on Assad to give up those weapons.