When Barack met Hassan
If the two sides were to orchestrate a handshake, diplomats said, the most likely venue would be a luncheon Tuesday for heads of state given by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. While any encounter might appear impromptu, Mr. Rhodes made clear that in such matters of high-level schmoozing, spontaneity has its time and place.”
— from a New York Times report on a possible UN meeting between President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani
Scene: United Nations steam room
Date: Sept. 25, 2013
Time: 10 a.m.
(President Obama sits on a bench, unclothed except for a white towel wrapped around his waist. He is flanked by two Secret Service agents, in black suits, dress shoes, and sunglasses.
(Enter President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. He is wrapped neck to toe in white sheets, a turban tied snugly around his ahead. An aide wears a similar outfit.)
Rouhani: Ah, that’s more like it. I haven’t warmed up since we left Khomeini International. I could use a good shvitz.
Aide: Sit here, your excellency. Near the shower head.
Rouhani: Thank you, Hamid. I can’t see a thing through the steam.
Obama: President Rouhani, is that you?
Rouhani (after significant pause): It could be. Who’s asking?
Obama: C’mon, Mr. President. Don’t kid a kidder. It’s Barack.
Rouhani: You mean Ehud? Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will not be pleased. (He and aide share a laugh.)
Obama: Good one. But let’s face it, Hassan. We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning.
Rouhani: I thought it could wait till lunch, but maybe this is better. No cameras. And I hate talking during big affairs. You can’t hear a word anyone says over the music.
Obama: Tell me about it. Whenever I go to a bar mitzva, I spend most of the time in the hallway talking with the other dads.
Rouhani: If I never hear “I Gotta Feeling” again, it won’t be too soon.
Obama: So listen, Mr. President —
Rouhani: Call me Hassan.
Obama: All right, Hassan. You know we have to talk about the nuclear thing. I think I’ve been pretty clear that we can’t tolerate your building a nuclear weapon…
Rouhani: Only a reactor. And for peaceful purposes.
Obama: Gevalt, Hassan. Let’s drop the song and dance. I know you guys want to join the club, and once you get a nuke, the whole region gets further destabilized. Dennis agrees with me — Dennis, you there?
(Dennis Ross emerges from the steam.)
Ross: Yes, Mr. President. (To Rouhani) Hello, Mr. President.
Rouhani: Gut yontiff.
Obama: And let’s face it, the sanctions are killing you guys, am I right?
Rouhani: Let’s just say I hadn’t had good deli until last night’s nosh at Mendy’s.
Obama: I like what you said about a “policy of reconciliation,” but I need some actions to back up your words. As Dennis here might say, tuches afn tisch.
Rouhani: We have a similar saying in Farsi: “It ain’t over ’til Fatima sings.” (He and aide laugh.) But seriously. I am trying to do the right thing here, but I’m just the messenger. The Supreme Leader wants to know what’s in it for us. For example, if we could see a little daylight between you and the Zionist entity.
Obama: For gosh sake, Hassan. I’m sending Joe Biden to speak at J Street. That may not mean much to you, but you know Jack Lew is going to hear about it from his friends on Shabbos. And Bibi Netanyahu has got a point — what with the threats to destroy Israel and the Holocaust denial. Speaking of which, what is Ahmadinejad doing these days?
Rouhani: You know, the usual ex-president thing: golfing, public speaking, building a presidential library. He’s talking about buying a place on Martha’s Vineyard.
(Awkward silence, broken by the laughter of Rouhani and his aide.)
Rouhani: Loosen up, Mr. President. It’s not all “Great Satan” this and “Death to Israel” that. It’s about 60 percent “Great Satan” and 20 percent “Death to Israel,” and the rest is…
Obama: I get it, I get it. But you have to appreciate the position I’m in, Hassan. You’re not the only problem I have on my hands. I’m facing an intractable enemy with a scorched-earth policy, whose leaders will harm their own people in defiance of every international norm…
Rouhani: The Tea Party is fanatical, I’ll agree with you there.
Obama: I’m talking about Syria! And if Putin can’t seal the deal on the chemical weapons, I’m right back with my finger on the trigger. Don’t think I won’t press it.
Rouhani: Please, Mr. President, let’s calm down. No one in Iran doubts your resolve. After what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, we know that the American people are fully prepared to back their words with military action. (He and aide exchange looks, and burst into laughter.) I’m sorry, I’m sorry. We tried to hold it in there, but I just couldn’t… (more laughter)
Obama: I think that’s enough. Dennis, grab the football, would ya? We’re out of here.