Obama, however, warned his Iranian counterpart that Washington’s delay of a strike on Syria did not mean that the US would drop the threats to use of force to stop Iran manufacturing nuclear weapons.
Obama made the revelation in an interview with the American ABC television network on Sunday, when he answered a question on whether he had talked to Rouhani. He said: “I have, and and he’s reached out to me. We haven’t spoken directly.”
Obama was eager to differentiate between the United States’ handling of the Syrian chemical weapons issue and the Iran’s nuclear issue. He said: “I think the Iranians understand that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue,” adding that “the threat . . . against Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests,” and that “a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing.”
Obama added: “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t . . . think we won’t strike Iran” because there has not yet been a US military strike on Syria. He said the lesson from the Syrian chemical weapons crisis should be that “there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically.”
Obama rejected Russian president Vladimir Putin’s allegations that the opposition were responsible for the lethal chemical attack in Damascus on August 21, which the US maintains was the work of the Syrian government. He added, however, that he welcomed Putin’s diplomatic efforts in this crisis and the role he played in reaching agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
Obama again welcomed the progress achieved in the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, saying, “It sounds to me like we did something right.” He added that he aimed to ensure that neither the Assad regime nor Al-Qaeda-linked parts of the opposition would never again possess chemical weapons.
The American president said that the fact that Putin was protecting Assad and that the Russian president did not share the same values as the United States on the Syrian issue. However, Obama added that this did not mean a confrontation between the US and Russia, because “this is not the Cold War.”
Washington had repeatedly refused to rule out military action against Iran if negotiations over it nuclear program fail. Iran maintains that its program is entirely peaceful, and that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons.
In Tehran, international affairs expert Murtadha Fairouzi said: “The exchange of letters between Rouhani and Obama is not surprising and was expected from Rouhani’s pledges.”
Fairouzi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Syrian crisis was a very good reason to start this dialogue, and diplomacy will continue because Rouhani is looking for a policy that would achieve a breakthrough, even if actual normalization is not possible at this time.”
He pointed out that the time was suitable for the American administration and the new Iranian president to improve relations, because Obama was in his second and final presidential term and is hoping to make a breakthrough, and because the Iranian people have voted for Rouhani in order to improve international relations and end the crises facing Iran.