Iran releases eight political prisoners in overture to Obama
By Julian Pecquet - 09/18/13 11:57 AM ET
Iran released eight political prisoners on Wednesday in a diplomatic move that could pave the way for a face-to-face meeting with Obama administration officials.
The White House has said there are “currently no plans” for President Obama to meet his Iranian counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Other top officials might run into each other, however, which would mark the resumption of direct U.S.-Iranian contacts for the first time since diplomatic relations were cut in 1980.
Freeing the political prisoners has been a priority for the United States. The released Iranians include human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, the BBC reports.
Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has sought to present himself as a relative moderate with whom the United States can negotiate since his June election. NBC is scheduled to interview him Wednesday evening.
In a message to the Iranian people after Rouhani's election in June, the Obama administration said it would be open to engaging “directly” on the issue of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. The two countries broke off diplomatic ties in 1980.
Obama confirmed in an interview Sunday with ABC that his office has been in contact with Rouhani through the exchange of letters. The last-minute diplomatic effort to avoid a U.S. strike on Syria should help convince Iran that a peaceful solution is possible, Obama told “This Week.”
“What they should draw from this lesson is there is a potential of resolving this issue diplomatically,” Obama said.
“Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I don't think this new president is suddenly going to make it easy,” he said. “But my view is, if you have a credible threat of force combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, then, in fact, you can strike a deal. And I hold out that hope.”