President Obama at the U.N.; No Mention of North Korea Nukes, Glancing Reference on Iran

President Obama addresses the UN General Assembly (AP Photo)

President Obama addresses the UN General Assembly (AP Photo)

President Obama's speech at the United Nations addressed a variety of issues including a major focus on the Middle East peace process, the humanitarian assistance to flood victims in Pakistan, and the on-going war in Afghanistan. But North Korea and that nation's nuclear program did not make the cut, and only a short reference to Iran was in the remarks.

Invoking last year's speech, which focused more heavily on Iran, the president reminded world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly of his previous messages to Iran. "Now let me be clear once more: the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program," Obama said.

The nearly 30-minute speech included only two paragraphs on Iran, a nation the president had said he would like to meet face-to-face with, when he was a candidate for president.

However, experts say it's not surprising the United States isn't talking about Iran. "They're not going to have any working level meetings on Iran because the Iranians walked away last October and haven't returned," says Jim Walsh, a national security expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Walsh says it's not just a reluctance to negotiate that is preventing dialogue; there are real political issues inside Iran that are intruding on diplomacy, including troubles for the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Ahmadinejad is having significant political problems at home, and wants to try to have Iranian viewers in Iran see him as a statesman and respected on the world stage. Suddenly, if Obama tried to deal directly - anything could happen. And almost all scenarios would be bad."Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also in New York for the General Assembly, has no plans to meet with any of the Iranian delegation this week, according to spokesman P.J. Crowley. Crowley says the next steps will be having the nations of the P5 +1 focus on "constructively engaging Iran."

President Obama will attempt to engage the Iranian public Friday when he sits down for an interview with BBC Persian TV. The BBC estimates that its Persian TV branch has a viewing audience of about 3.1 million, which includes Iran. The Iranian regime has past blocked access to it in the past. 

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters the president will "have the opportunity to build on the same message that he's delivered repeatedly over the last 20 months, including today, which is that we seek a better relationship with the people of Iran." 

For its part, the administration says it is pleased with the progress the United Nations, and in particular the Security Council, has made regarding both Iran and North Korea this year.

"We've made real strides on nonproliferation and counterterrorism," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters Monday. Rice says the sanctions by both the U.N. and the European Union has put pressure on both Iran and North Korea. "Our dual-track approaches have teeth and increased prospects for progress. "

Mark Quarterman, who spent over 20 years at the United Nations, says while the sanctions on the two nations are similar, there are a lot of moving parts in regard to each country, and it may be hard for the U.S. to "harness the security council in a particular direction. The Security Council is a tool in the U.S. tool chest and it's an important one, but don't put too much weight on it because we will always be disappointed because it won't get us where we want to go."

In addition to the Security Council and their actions in the past year, the White House may also be relying on China to help them push forward with both Iran and North Korea. President Obama met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday in New York and earlier in the week, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said Iran would be on the short list for conversations with the Chinese Premier. "They'll also address non-proliferation broadly, which would include not just Iran but, of course, North Korea and its need to live up to its obligations."The Obama administration continues to work with allies on the Iran issue, and officials say there's been more discussion but no "imminent diplomatic shift."

In terms of North Korea, the White House may hope there will be a resumption of talks in the near future, but Walsh warns it would be a mistake by the United States to think China can solve the North Korean problem by pressuring that nation. He says encouraging North Korea to return to negotiations is what the end-goal should be for everyone.

"China has to play the middle role... It can't be beating North Korea with a stick or they will never make progress. It has to be a middle in between the United States and North Korea, but if North Korea sees China as a threat, the process is lost."