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Behind The Missing Obama-Rouhani Handshake

Zarif during Iranian parliament debate of the nuclear agreement with the West.
Zarif during Iranian parliament debate of the nuclear agreement with the West.

TEHRAN Iranian legislators questioned Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about why he had shaken hands last month with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The gesture was viewed by many as another positive sign of Iran's thawing relations with the West, but has irritated the country's conservatives opposed to improved ties with the United States. Indeed, after decades between Tehran and Washington, some hardliners have called for Zarif's resignation in the wake of the Obama handshake.

But in the Tuesday hearing, Zarif told the chamber's national security committee that his handshake hadn't really been meant for him, because President Obama had actually sought to shake hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd reported, citing the semi-official ISNA agency.

Zarif was being questioned Tuesday, ahead of parliament's preliminary approval of Iran's nuclear pact with the West, against the bitter opposition of a conservative minority.

The country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently declared that beyond the accord, Iran should not negotiate anything with the Americans, effectively fueling conservative opposition to any rapprochement.

Zarif said President Obama "seemed to be planning to shake hands not with me, but with President Rouhani," following a General Assembly session in late September.

"So my shaking hands with the U.S. president was coincidental, but the Americans had plans to face the Iranian president, which of course didn't happen," the foreign minister said. "What I did was in keeping with Islamic courtesy. Mr Obama came toward me and extended his hand, and it all took about a minute."

Al Monitorhas reported that the Iranian delegation specifically avoided having Rouhani anywhere near Obama during the UN meetings to be sure no presidential greeting might occur.

The questioning of Zarif was relatively mild compared to the rowdy parliamentary session on Oct. 11, when one MP hardliner threatened to kill one of Iran's nuclear negotiators and head of the Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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