Would they meet behind closed doors? Chat during a luncheon? Shake hands in a hallway?
After days of speculation about President Barack Obama’s and Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s plans to meet in New York, United Nations-watchers finally have their answer: None of the above.
Rohani skipped a luncheon for delegation heads today to instead attend a bilateral meeting with French President Francois Hollande.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited some 160 heads of state attending this week’s UN General Assembly to dine together. Obama delivered a toast at the luncheon that began at about 1:15 p.m. EDT, in absence of Rohani.
If Rohani had attended and met Obama, it would have been the first in-person greeting between leaders of Iran and the U.S. since then-President Jimmy Carter met the Shah of Iran in 1977. Any interaction between the two, even a mere handshake, would have been a significant symbol of a shift from more than 35 years of deteriorating relations.
Instead, Rohani was seen by Bloomberg News at 2:15 p.m. EDT walking through the UN complex. Ten minutes later, Rohani’s Twitter account posted a picture of him meeting French counterparts, blowing away any possibility of Rohani stopping by Ban’s lunch before Obama’s departure.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 24, 2013
A French diplomat present at the meeting confirmed that the bilateral meeting was underway.
While the U.S. was open to an informal exchange, the Iranians decided against such a display, citing domestic political concerns, Bloomberg’s Lisa Lerer reported.
Obama left the Delegates’ Dining Room at about 2:26 p.m. after enjoying a meal featuring tuna tartar and avocados with micro rainbow greens as an appetizer, veal ossobuco Milanese for the main and salted caramel chocolate mousse biscotti for dessert. Argentinian Malbec, Bodega Alisa 2011 and Spain’s Deusas Nai 2011 were served for drinks, which, according to Iranian state television Press TV, was the reason for Rohani’s decision not to attend the meal.