Newly installed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been on a charm offensive this month trying to convince the West Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, but whether he really reflects the true intent of the mullahs who actually run the country or is just blowing smoke is a complicated question.
So complicated, in fact, he ducked an opportunity to lunch with U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly last week and was unable to agree to a face-to-face with Obama while the two were in New York.
"It's too complicated," a senior administration official told reporters in announcing there would be no meeting of the two presidents.
"We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself. The Iranians got back to us; it was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home," the official said.
And there's the crux of the issue: Rouhani may be making all the right noises about opening Iran's nuclear program to international inspection and denying weapons ambitions, but when it comes to concrete actions, it's complicated.
In a CBS interview Wednesday, Rouhani gave the matter a slightly different spin, saying after 35 years of no relations between Iran and the United States, a meeting between him and Obama would need careful preparation.
"We must make every effort so that the first high official meeting will definitely yield positive results," Rouhani said.
Late Friday, Obama said he had talked with Rouhani by phone and was hopeful an agreement can be reached.
"We're mindful of all the challenges ahead," Obama said. "The very fact that this was the first communication between an American and Iranian President since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.
"I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution. Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.
"I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. ...
"Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- one based on mutual interests and mutual respect. It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region."
A senior administration official later said the call was set up when the administration became aware Rouhani wanted to speak with Obama before heading back to Tehran.
"I think what we would say is we're trying to achieve an objective that we believe could serve the interests of the United States, Israel and the world, which is a resolution that involves Iran coming in line with its obligations, not developing a nuclear weapon," the official said. "And again, I think that that would advance our security; it would also advance Israel's security if we can achieve a meaningful, transparent, verifiable agreement."
The West and Iran's neighbors are hopeful the winds of change are blowing through ancient Persia with Rouhani's election given the intransigence of predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And indeed Rouhani spent much of the run-up to this week's U.N. General Assembly giving interviews to western media, saying the words the peacemongers long to hear. He even acknowledged the evil of the Holocaust -- but at the same time said the wrongs inflicted by the Nazis doesn't give another country, an obvious allusion to Israel, the right to occupy another people's lands, meaning the West Bank.