“The president is not,” said Carney when asked by a reporter if Obama was “disappointed.”
“He was open to the possibility of an informal encounter with President Rouhani,” he added. “He remains open to that.”
Both Obama and Rouhani spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, raising speculation that the two leaders might speak or interact. Rouhani, a moderate, was recently elected Iran's new president, and made a number of diplomatic overtures to the U.S., claiming he would not build nuclear weapons and calling for “constructive” dialogue.
Ahead of the UN General Assembly, the White House had said Obama was “willing” to interact with Rouhani.
The administration said Tuesday that it had discussed an encounter on the sides of the UN meeting with Iran, but that Iranian officials eventually decided it was “too complicated” to carry out.
Carney downplayed the lack of a meeting between the two leaders, saying that the focus should be on Iran’s seriousness about restarting talks.
“The president believes that the most important issues when it comes to Iran’s relationship with the international community, including the United States, are ones that need to be resolved over negotiations over substantive matters over Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” he said.
“We should not over interpret that the Iranians decided against having an encounter,” he added.
Critics who have been skeptical of Iran’s diplomatic outreach charged that Obama had been snubbed by Rouhani and urged caution in any talks.
“I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama told the UN.
Carney declined to speculate on why Iran rejected the White House offer.
“Im not going to delve into an analysis of Iranian politics because that’s not the issue for us,” he said. “The issue is how serious is the new government as well as the supreme leader.”
The White House said Obama was firm on Iran abandoning any pursuit of nuclear weapons and Carney said the U.S. would insist on “verifiable” proof before lifting sanctions.
“Actions are what matter,” he said.
“The onus is on Iran to demonstrate that it is serious about fulfilling its international obligations,” said Carney.