"He said we'd be open to diplomacy, we'd pursue engagement, but that there would be pressure if Iran failed to take that opportunity," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. And on Syria, Rhodes said it was the credible threat of a U.S. military strike "that opened the door for this diplomacy."
Obama was due to arrive in New York Monday afternoon. He will address the U.N. on Tuesday, a speech aides say will touch on developments in Iran, Syria and Middle East peace. The issues will also be at the forefront of some of the president's bilateral meetings with world leaders, including a sit-down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, whose country is burdened by the flow of refugees from neighboring Syria.
But Obama's most closely watched meeting may end up being with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. No encounter is scheduled, but U.S. officials have left open the possibility the two men might talk on the sidelines of the international gathering.
If they do, it would mark the first meeting of U.S. and Iranian leaders in more than 30 years. A meeting could also be a precursor to renewed talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear program — though bridging differences over Iran's right to enrich uranium and maintain those stockpiles will be a far tougher task than arranging a handshake.
The election of Rouhani, a moderate cleric, signaled frustration among many Iranians with their country's international isolation and the crippling impact of Western sanctions. Obama and Rouhani have already exchanged letters. And the new Iranian president's rhetoric has so far been more palatable to the U.S. than former leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who would threaten Israel as well as lambast the U.S. in his annual remarks at the U.N.