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U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won't be shaking hands or meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, two senior administration officials said. Such an encounter proved too complicated for Iran back home, the officials told reporters.
"Clearly the Ayatollah has said no, and ultimately, remember, the Ayatollah is the one who calls the shots on the nuclear program, and on diplomacy," said Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
President Obama in his speech at the United Nations Tuesday said he asked Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a dialogue with Iran. Royce is hawkish on such a move, and has introduced legislation with his Democratic counterpart pushing even stricter economic sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. needs a diplomatic path "in which Iran agrees to give up its nuclear program, give up its enrichment, give up its weapons-making capability," said Royce, adding that the effects of tough sanctions are the only reason Iran is considering diplomatic talks.
"The existing sanctions we have on Iran have forced about $600 billion out of that economy over the last two years, capital flight is rampant, they have mass unemployment, very high inflation," said Royce.
Royce's bill would "increase those sanctions on the regime in order to try to force them to give up those weapons," said the California congressman.
Rouhani has been on a public relations offensive of late, pushing for better relations with Washington.
But Royce remains skeptical of his sincerity, saying Rouhani will try to convince the west to drop sanctions, and then wholeheartedly pursue a nuclear weapons program.
"He's certainly trying to sound and seem different from Ahmadinejad and his predecessors. Very clever fellow," said Royce, who said Rouhani dragged out negotiations with the Europeans in order to get more advanced centrifuges spinning. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium.
"That's been his past policy. What we need to do is make it very clear that we're wise to that. We know he's playing the same playbook that North Korea used to get nuclear weapons, to get out from under the sanctions," said Royce.
Rocye suggests giving Rouhani a set deadline.
"We'll give you 100 days from the day you came into office. Give up your weapons program, stop enrichment, turn the enriched uranium back, and we'll lift the sanctions," said Royce.
"We can't let him play us the way he played the Europeans in the negotiations," said Royce.