Washington, Sep 20 (IANS): With the White house saying that President Barack Obama is open to direct talks with Iran, speculation has grown that he and the new Iranian President Hassan Rohani may meet at the UN next week.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that no meeting is scheduled between the two leaders, but he also underscored that Obama "has been open as a general proposition to bilateral discussions with the Iranians."
The president, Carney told reporters, has found Rouhani's rhetoric in his first weeks in office encouraging, but "actions are more important than words."
"We are all watching very closely and with interest and listening closely and with interest to the things that the new leadership has been saying," he said.
When Obama first ran for president in 2008, he said he would hold direct negotiations with Iran under certain conditions. Carney said Obama still holds that position.
Obama, according to Carney, would be willing to have bilateral negotiations provided the Iranians were serious about addressing the international community's insistence that Tehran give up its nuclear weapons programme.
"That is the position we hold today," Carney said.
No US president has met a top Iranian leader since the overthrow of the pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi more than 34 years ago.
But Obama and Rouhani have confirmed that they've exchanged letters since the new Iranian leader took office.
In an interview this week with the Spanish-language network Telemundo, Obama said he indicated his interest in seeing Iran address US concerns about Iran's nuclear programme "in a way that would allow Iran to rejoin the international community."
Meanwhile, Rouhani, who denies that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, told NBC News earlier this week that he received a "positive and constructive" letter from Obama after the recent Iranian election, and it could augur "subtle and tiny steps for a very important future."
Rouhani also asserted in the interview that he has complete authority to negotiate with the United States on its nuclear programme.