Speculation ran high at the United Nations this week about whether or not President Obama and Iranian president Rouhani would shake hands. Ultimately, the two leaders did not as the gesture was deemed “too complicated” for Iran at this time, “given their own dynamic back home.”
However, those complications did not prevent a handshake between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Zarif at a ministerial meeting on Thursday. The following exchange took place at a press briefing between a reporter and an unnamed senior State Department official:
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So Minister Zarif – we were in a U-shaped table. When Zarif came in, Helga Schmid got up so that he could sit next to Lady Ashton, and cornered with Zarif was the Secretary of State. So they were sitting next to each other on the corner, and at the end of the meeting, the Secretary leaned over and said, “Shall we talk for a few moments?” Now, informally, there had been a little bit of chatting that that might happen, and so neither one of them were surprised. And we --
QUESTION: It’s like being asked to a dance --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. (Laughter.) We had --
MODERATOR: There was no dancing.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, no dancing. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And they did shake hands?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Trust me, no dancing. They did.
QUESTION: Shake hands?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They did shake hands... They shook hands when they met.
The Senior State Department official, though unnamed, went on to identify herself as a woman with the following comment on diplomatic protocol with the Iranians:
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: ... I did not shake hands for all the reasons you know, because I try to be respectful of the tradition that they would not shake hands with a woman...