To meet, or not to meet: Obama and Rowhani mull a gamble

To meet, or not to meet: Obama and Rowhani mull a gamble

WASHINGTON - After a flurry of diplomatic smoke signals, Iran and the United States are sizing up the gamble of a presidential close encounter at the UN next week that could open a first crack in 30 years of enmity.

In letters, statements, television interviews and even tweets, both sides have been gingerly testing attitudes and appetites for detente on either side of their metaphorical iron curtain.

With no diplomatic relations, the enemies can only communicate over the airwaves or through intermediaries, but that could change at the UN General Assembly.

Neither side is ruling out what would be a historic first handshake between the president of the Islamic Republic and the president of the United States.

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, a conservative with a pragmatic political streak, was elected in June promising to ease Iran's tortured foreign relations and US-led sanctions that buckled its economy in a bid to punish a nuclear drive.

Rowhani, who offered "flexibility" in negotiations by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has spurred curiosity in Washington, which is mustering for a new round of so far fruitless nuclear diplomacy between Iran and world powers.

President Barack Obama meanwhile is promising to test Rowhani's seriousness and the political space he has back home to talk with the American "Great Satan."

White House spokesman Jay Carney, sending his own signal toward Tehran, noted "lots of interesting things" coming out of the Iranian capital.

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