TEHRAN -- While Western analysts have been speculating that Iran’s moderate new leader failed to meet with President Obama at the United Nations this week because of opposition from hard-liners at home, Iranian political commentators are blaming the missed photo op on booze.
The Iranian delegation declined to attend U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s luncheon on Tuesday for the 193-nation annual gathering, offering no reason for skipping the venue where Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would likely have run into Obama and extended a hand or offered a greeting.
White House officials who tipped reporters to the fact that the two leaders wouldn’t meet Tuesday said only that the Iranian delegation had deemed the orchestrated gesture “too complicated” to pull off.
But academics in Tehran suggest that Rouhani’s delegation did not attend Ban’s luncheon because alcohol was being served, and drinking is eschewed by devout Muslims.
“It is regrettable that President Rouhani did not keep his own promise after raising expectations,” said Hermidas Bavand, an international law professor and former U.N. envoy before Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. “If it was due to consideration that alcoholic drink was being served, that was a really bad diplomatic decision.”
Muslims in attendance at events where wine is served, as was the case at Ban’s luncheon, “can ask for nonalcoholic beverages or simply turn their glasses upside down,” Bavand said in an interview with The Times. “I am sorry that Iran missed this historic opportunity between the two presidents.”
Nader Karimi Juni, editor of the reformist Donyay-e-Sanat newspaper, also blamed the failure of the hoped-for handshake to materialize on the Rouhani delegation’s declining Ban’s luncheon invitation.
“Rouhani made his hard-liner friends in Iran happy but did not make a good impression in New York and in the international arena,” the editor complained.
Newspapers aligned with Iran’s conservative religious hierarchy were more pleased with Rouhani’s debut appearance before the world body, praising him for his steadfast defense of Iran’s right to develop nuclear technologies and his criticism of purported U.S. belligerence in the Middle East.