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UNITED NATIONS — President Barack Obama today welcomed the new Iranian government’s pursuit of a “more moderate course,” saying it should offer the basis for a breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear impasse with the United Nations and the U.S. He signaled a willingness to directly engage with Iran’s leaders, tasking Secretary of State John Kerry with pursuing diplomacy with Tehran.

“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama said during an address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Obama also issued a stern message to the international body itself, saying its ability to meet the test of the times is being challenged by the dispute over what to do about Syria’s chemical weapons. He called on the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that would enforce consequences on Syrian President Bashar Assad if he fails to follow a U.S.-Russian deal to turn his chemical weapon stockpiles over to the international community.

As the General Assembly meetings opened, the situation in Syria was overshadowed by a flurry of friendly gestures between the U.S. and Iran’s new government. Obama said recent statements by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, a moderate cleric elected in June, should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

But Obama, reflecting the skepticism of many in the U.S. and around the world, also said Rouhani’s “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”

Obama said he was asking Kerry to pursue diplomatic progress with Iran, in coordination with five other world powers. Kerry will join representatives from those nations Thursday in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.

It’s unclear whether Kerry and Zarif will meet one-on-one on the sidelines of that meeting. And Obama also offered no hints of whether he will meet Tuesday with Rouhani. Even a brief handshake would be significant, marking the first such encounter between U.S. and Iranian leaders in 36 years.