End of America's Nuclear Dispute With Iran May Be in Sight
Photo Credit: By White House (Pete Souza) / Maison Blanche (Pete Souza) (The Official White House Photostream ) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani held the first direct talks between American and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exchanging pleasantries in a 15-minute telephone call on Friday that raised the prospect of relief for Tehran from crippling economic sanctions.
Speaking at the White House shortly after the historic call, Obama said his discussion with Rouhani had shown the "basis for resolution" of the dispute over Iran nuclear programme.
The conversation, in which Obama communicated his "deep respect for the Iranian people", capped a week of diplomatic breakthroughs. Rouhani ended a five-day visit to New York for the UN general assembly with a striking offer to work rapidly to defuse tensions with America, and hailed the US as "a great nation" – a dramatic shift in tone for an Iranian leader.
Both leaders expressed confidence their countries could reach a peaceful settlement to their standoff over Iranian nuclear programme. Obama, in his White House statement, said: "While there will be significant obstacles and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution. I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution."
Obama cautioned against over-optimism, however. "We're mindful of all the challenges ahead," he told reporters. "The test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place."
Minutes earlier, President Rouhani's English-language Twitter account broke news of the phone call in a series of tweets that hinted at a remarkably swift rapprochement between the two countries since the moderate cleric was elected in June.
One tweet said Rouhani had concluded the phone call by telling Obama to "have a nice day!" and Obama had thanked him and said goodbye in Persian – "Khodahafez", which means "God go with you".
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 27, 2013
The tweets, which are published by Rouhani's aides, suggested the tone of the conversation was friendly, even punctuated by banter. Obama was quoted as saying: "I wish you a safe and pleasant journey and apologize if you're experiencing the [horrendous] traffic in NYC."
Earlier, at a press conference in New York, Rouhani made the most conciliatory remarks heard from Tehran in a decade and also offered to prepare a concrete plan for resolving the nuclear stalemate to a new round of negotiations in Geneva on 15 October.
He said Tehran might go even further, hinting at a possible confidence-building measure to be announced at the talks. But it was Rouhani's tone that was most remarkable, at the end of a week in which he sought to present Iran as a reborn country, following his June election.
"The environment that has been created is quite different from the past, and those who have brought the change was the people of Iran," he said. "The first step has been taken here which is a beginning for better relations with other countries and in particular, between the two great nations of Iran and US.
"So the understanding between our peoples will grow and our governments will first stop the escalation of tensions, and then defuse those tensions."
The conciliatory language marked a radical change from the presidency of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a break from tradition dating to the 1979 revolution of referring to the US as the "Great Satan". It mirrored a change on the streets of Tehran, where the ritual chanting of "Death to America" has almost died out at public gatherings since the elections.