Syria and Iran top agenda as world leaders meet in New York

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
September 25, 2013

U.S.-Iran handshake a no go at the U.N., Kenya combs through mall wreckage, and Egypt shutters Brotherhood newspaper. Today is Wednesday, September 25, and this the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

United States President Barack Obama addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool

Hands tied. President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani each spoke of warming ties between the nations during speeches at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, but did not shake hands – a move that would have given credence to friendly overtures. The two leaders exchanged cordial letters recently, and some speculated that more open dialogue could lead to an impromptu meeting during the General Assembly:

The failed handshake was a sign of the difficulties the United States and Iran face in trying to seize a historic opening after decades of hostility. Even a brief meeting would have been symbolically important given that it would have been the first face-to-face contact between U.S. and Iranian heads of government since before the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah. Rouhani’s gestures since taking office last month, including agreeing to renew long-stalled talks with world powers on Iran’s nuclear program, have raised hopes for a thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran after years of estrangement.

The U.S. was open to a meeting between Obama and Rouhani, despite wariness from Congress, but a U.S. official said Iran found the encounter too complicated. In a speech on Tuesday, Obama said he preferred a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff between the nations, welcoming Rouhani’s relatively moderate approach to the nuclear program. However, Obama did not offer concessions on sanctions, which Rouhani criticized as causing “belligerence, warmongering and human suffering.” Washington suspects Iran is working to develop nuclear arms, which the U.S. and Israel find unacceptable and Tehran denies. World leaders also continued to discuss a Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan on Tuesday, with Obama pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would allow for military action against Syria if the Assad regime refuses to comply with the draft’s conditions. Russian leaders have said they won’t agree to the possibility of a strike. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over Syria on Tuesday and said the meeting was constructive.

A cemetery worker walks near the fresh graves (L) of Selima Merali, 41, and her daughter Nuriana Merali, 15, who were killed in the attack by gunmen at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, September 25, 2013.

Shopping center search starts. Kenyan officials began searching through the rubble of a Nairobi shopping mall where al Shabaab militants held hostages from Saturday through Tuesday, leaving at least 72 people dead in a siege intended to protest Kenya’s military presence in Somalia:

After a four-day siege, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday troops had defeated the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group that targeted the shopping center popular with prosperous Kenyans and foreigners. He declared three days of mourning. The attack has highlighted the reach of the Somali al Shabaab and the capabilities of its crack unit believed to be behind the bloodshed in Westgate mall, confirming international fears that as long as Somalia remains in turmoil it will be a recruiting and training ground for militant Islam… Kenya has said 10 to 15 attackers launched the raid. Ole Lenku said the investigation would seek to ascertain if there were any females among the assailants, as some witness accounts suggest, and would also see if the groups had rented a store in the mall prior the attack as part of their preparation.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said five militants and six security officers were among those killed. Police say they are holding 11 people in custody in relation to the attack, which officials believe was carried out by al Shabaab operatives from various nations. Read Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic’s chilling account of photographing the violence here.

A man reads the Muslim Brotherhood’s newspaper Al-Hurriya wa-l-adala (Freedom and Justice), named after their political party, in Cairo, September 3, 2013.

Papered over. Egyptian officials closed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice newspaper on Wednesday, days after a court formally banned the party from public life. The paper had focused on undermining the military takeover that ousted former president Mohamed Mursi in July:

Police stormed the building overnight and removed the contents. A source at the Cairo Security Department said the raid followed Monday’s court ruling which banned the Brotherhood and ordered its funds seized. “A court ruling was issued to do it on charges of inciting violence and terrorism in the recent past,” a security source said, referring to the operation. The army overthrew Mohamed Mursi in July, and the Brotherhood has seen hundreds of its members killed and thousands arrested since then. The campaign had forced many of the 50 journalists who produced the daily Freedom and Justice to work in secret to avoid arrest.

Monday’s ruling against the Muslim Brotherhood did not mention the fate of the party’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Nota Bene: Pakistani army airlifts hundreds of soldiers to help after its worst earthquake since 2005.

Standouts:

Man crush - Young American hunters start a Putin fan club. (The Atlantic)

Two-headed operation - Afghan surgeons successfully operated on an infant with a second skull. (BBC)

Rouhani on LinkedIn - Israeli diplomats mock Iran’s president with a fake profile. (New York Times)

Smog check - It could cost $817 billion dollars to clean up China’s air. (Time)

For science’s sake - Popular Science shuts down its comments section. (Popular Science)

From the File:

  • Syria rebels call for Islamic leadership.
  • Greeks hold anti-fascism rallies following rapper’s death.
  • India-U.S. ties falter over economic differences.
  • Chinese adoption agency furious over findings of Reuters child exchange report.
  • Zimbabwe poachers kill at least 80 elephants with cyanide.
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