Journalists from Washington, D.C. to Manhattan were sent scrambling to their keyboards Tuesday afternoon when Iranian President Hassan Rowhani turned down President Barack Obama’s offer to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly.
Just hours before, dozens of journalists filed articles exploring the possible consequences of an impending handshake between Obama and Rowhani—possibly the most consequential diplomatic event, they implied, since the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War and ushered in the international state system, or perhaps the Congress of Vienna, which ended the Napoleonic Wars and established peace in Europe that lasted until the outbreak of World War I.
Michael Crowley of Time magazine headlined his piece, “Obama and Rouhani: A Handshake that Could Shake the World.” Since Rowhani’s election, “Tehran’s tone has changed,” Crowley said, and Iran “has shown clear support for a new diplomatic push.” Plus, “when it comes to international diplomacy, symbolism can go a long way.”
The New York Times began its front page coverage, “This is Hassan Rowhani’s moment. The toast of the United Nations is busy granting interviews […] and possibly cramming in a meeting with President Obama—the first such high-level get-together since the 1979 revolution.” The Times‘ headline said that “Enigmatic Leader of Iran Backs Overture, for Now.”
NBC News said, “It would be the handshake watched around the world.”
The Los Angeles Times headlined its coverage, “An Obama and Rouhani handshake at the U.N. could mean a lot.”
Al Jazeera’s headline read, “Rouhani and Obama set to make history.” and after listing examples of deep mistrust and animosity, said “one simple action will make it all irrelevant—a handshake between Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and his US counterpart, Barack Obama.”
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, having invested an enormous amount of journalistic credibility trying to help President Obama appear tough on Iran, tweeted: “Rohani’s decision to avoid Obama makes Iran look week, not the U.S.”
At press time, none of the reporters who predicted that an Obama-Rowhani handshake would change everything have said that the absence of such a handshake carries any meaning whatsoever.