Addressing the 68th session of United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama said that Americans do not wish to see America’s involvement in civil wars in other countries. As regards Syria, Barack dropped his decision of unilateral action to punish Syria for having purportedly used Sarin gas that killed some 500 people, and said that diplomatic path vis-à-vis Russian peace plan should be tested. Dwelling on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama in a conciliatory tone said: “We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course, and given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China”. His words about relationship with Iran on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect would help remove the tension in relations.

Diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran were cut off in 1979; and since then official negotiations took place only through intermediaries or for brief periods in multinational forums. In 2007, two meetings were held between Ryon C. Crocker US ambassador to Iraq and Hassan Kazemi-Qomi Iran’s envoy to Iraq on May 28 and July 24. “Their May 28 meeting marked the first public and formal talks between U.S. and Iranian representatives since the United States cut off diplomatic relations 27 years ago,” CNN had reported at the time. During the debate at the time of presidential elections in Iran, Rouhani criticized Saeed Jalili, a hardline candidate in the presidential race and reportedly stated: “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives and livelihood are also running”. Western media terms the change in Iran’s stance as rhetoric while others view it the result of biting UN sanctions. Whatever they say, the fact remains that Iranian new leadership cares for the problems faced by the Iranian people.

Indeed, there were positive signals from the US as well. President Barack Obama had expressed his willingness to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General session this week. However, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a briefing that “President Obama was willing to have a meeting with President Rouhani if Iran demonstrates seriousness about dealing with nuclear program”. If the US expects that Iran would close down its centrifuge facility to showcase its seriousness, it is not likely to happen. President Rouhani must be doing all this with the backing from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as he has taken some steps from releasing political prisoners to appointing credible lieutenants to showcase the paradigm shift in Iran’s policy. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his part told the Revolutionary Guards: “It is time to show heroic flexibility in the coming diplomatic battle, due to open in New York on Tuesday”.

President Rouhani had also given positive signals. He told NBC last week, that “the problem won’t be from our side. We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem”. This is emblematic of the desire of Iran’s leadership to resolve the issue, and Iran’s willingness to allow IAEA inspectors to vouch for themselves that Iran’s program is for peaceful purposes only is testimony of Iran’s seriousness. Anyhow, President Obama will have to convince Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as Nato ally Turkey that US-Iran talks would help make this region and the world at large a safer place to live in. Of course, contradictions between Iran and Arab world date back to 1400 years, but the US and the West use those contradictions to advance their agenda. Israel, the Middle East’s sole nuclear power, sees an Iran with the technical capacity to make an atomic bomb as a challenge to its hegemony.

Secondly, Russia and China have stakes in Iran and the Middle East; the former has business interests and China has interest in securing oil supplies. They would try to safeguard their interests. Finally, Iran has the support of the Palestinians, Syria, and Hezbollah, and any attack on Iran would engulf the entire region including Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Arab states. It has to be mentioned that during Lebanon war in 2006, Hezbollah put up tremendous resistance when attacked by Israel, defying all predictions that Israel would destroy Hezbollah’s capacity to retaliate with lightning speed within a week or so. But even after one month, Israel could not shake the resolve of Hezbollah, and the myth of invincibility of the Jewish state and its backers was shattered. Anyhow, Iran’s leadership has won the war of attrition, as political pundits had presaged that the US would never ever hold direct talks with Iran.

Since the US has chosen to pursue the course of talks with Iran, it should not ask Iran or insist to give practical demonstration of its seriousness. The second most important issue Obama mentioned in his address was implementation of two-state formula; he expressed the hope that Israeli and Palestinian leaderships that are engaged in talks would first lower the tensions and take the agreements and accords to their logical conclusion. If America continues to give unqualified support to Israel, it would not let Palestinian state materialize, and rising tensions could stir wars. America should invoke cerebral clarity instead of appealing to visceral instincts. And if President Obama lives up to his words of mutual interests and mutual respect, the prospects of US-Iran détente would be bright.

The writer is a political analyst and freelance columnist.