TEHRAN, Iran — Iranians pored over news accounts Wednesday of President Hasan Rouhani’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly, with those eager to break out of Iran’s isolation expressing disappointment that their new leader didn’t meet with President Barack Obama or offer more concrete steps for sanctions relief.
Hard-liners, however, seemed mostly pleased with Rouhani’s steadfast defense Tuesday of Iran’s right to enrich uranium and develop its nuclear industry. Western countries accuse Iran of refining uranium for the purpose of building a nuclear bomb, and have made sanctions relief contingent on Tehran stopping the enrichment.
Rouhani’s late-afternoon speech in New York was carried live on Iranian state television, when it was well after midnight in Tehran. It was also hours beyond the normal 9 p.m. newspaper deadline for morning editions.
But in a sign of how keenly Iranians are following the prospects for change in their country’s long-hostile relations with the West, many of Iran’s leading newspapers delayed publication to include coverage of the new president’s debut on the world stage.
Newspaper vendors spread their wares on sidewalks lining busy streets, where those on foot and motorbikes drew up to read a wide spectrum of political analysis. Some grumbled as they read the accounts of Rouhani suggesting that the West has been inconsistent in its dealings with the Middle East, and his repetition of long-standing complaints about Washington and its allies.
“It’s all repetitive. There’s nothing new here,” groused one reader who would give only his first name, Hassan.
“Rouhani is talking about democracy and elections as if he were the president of Sweden or Switzerland,” he said, expressing disappointment at seeing no clear concessions on Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which Iranians view as what is needed to get relief from crippling economic sanctions.
Others, though, read into the address more nuanced overtures for better relations with the United States and its allies.
“Rouhani’s address was excellent, and I think Iran is ready to compromise on the nuclear issue, and on Syria and Lebanon. Why else would Rouhani have gone to New York?” said Ali Hasanzadeh, who voted for Rouhani, as he scanned the arrayed newspapers on a sidewalk near Tehran’s Contemporary Art Museum.
Several reform-minded commentators brushed off the failure of Rouhani and Obama to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering as a result of the backlash the Iranian leader would have faced from Islamic conservatives if he had attended an event where alcohol was served.
The planned venue for a hoped-for handshake between the men was a Tuesday luncheon hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Iranian delegation declined to attend.
“Apart from wanting to avoid a party where alcohol was being served, President Rouhani probably didn’t want to expend all the opportunity for rapprochement in one go,” said Abolhasan Mokhtabad, a musicologist and staunch supporter of Rouhani.