| WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Sept 27
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Sept 27 President Barack
Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by
telephone on Friday, the highest-level contact between the two
countries in three decades and a sign that both sides are
serious about reaching a pact on Tehran's nuclear program.
Obama, who pledged as a presidential candidate in 2007 his
willingness to have direct contact with U.S. adversaries, had
hoped to cross paths with Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly,
but the Iranian side decided an encounter was too complicated.
On Friday, however, the Iranians said Rouhani was interested
in a phone discussion before he left the United States,
according to a senior administration official, and the White
House quickly arranged the call which took place at 2:30 p.m.
(1830 GMT) and lasted about 15 minutes.
Speaking to reporters, Obama said both men had directed
their teams to work quickly toward an agreement on Iran's
nuclear program. He said this was a unique opportunity to make
progress with Tehran over an issue that has isolated it from the
"While there will surely be important obstacles to moving
forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can
reach a comprehensive solution," Obama said at the White House.
"The test will be meaningful, transparent, and verifiable
actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive
international sanctions that are currently in place," against
Iran, Obama said.
Rouhani, in his Twitter account, said that in the
conversation he told Obama "Have a Nice Day!" and Obama
responded with "Thank you. Khodahafez (goodbye)." He added that
the two men "expressed their mutual political will to rapidly
solve the nuclear issue."
The United States cut diplomatic relations with Iran a year
after the 1979 revolution that toppled U.S. ally Shah Mohammad
Reza Pahlavi and led to a diplomatic crisis in which 52
Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
The price of oil fell on Friday as tensions eased between
the United States and Iran after the Obama-Rouhani phone call.
"The phone call was an important milestone - a calculated
risk by two cautious leaders mindful of domestic constraints,"
said Yasmin Alem, senior fellow at Atlantic Council's South Asia
Center. "More than anything else it shows the high level of
political capital invested in a peaceful resolution of the
The telephone call, the first between the heads of
government of the two nations since 1979, came while Rouhani was
heading to the airport after his first visit to the U.N. General
Assembly, according to a statement on Rouhani's official
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister
Mohammad Javad Zarif have been asked to follow up on the
Obama-Rouhani conversation, the statement added.
"The biggest taboo in Iranian politics has been broken. This
is the beginning of a new era," said Ali Vaez, a senior Iran
analyst at the International Crisis Group.
As president, Rouhani is the head of the government but has
limited powers. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the
ultimate authority in Iran with final say on domestic and
foreign policy, though Rouhani says he has been given full
authority to negotiate on the nuclear issue.
Obama nodded to that power dynamic in his remarks, saying
both men had given signals that Iran would not pursue nuclear
"Iran's Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the
development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated
that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons," Obama said.
"I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian
people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran
meeting its obligations."
Western powers say they believe Iran has been pursuing
nuclear weapons for some time. Iran says its aims are peaceful
and focused on energy production.
An Obama administration official said the United States had
told the Israeli government about the Obama-Rouhani call. Israel
is deeply skeptical about the shift in Iran's rhetoric and has
warned its allies to be wary of Rouhani.
Rouhani was on a charm offensive during his week in New
York, repeatedly stressing Iran's desire for normal relations
with Western powers and denying it wanted a nuclear arsenal,
while urging an end to sanctions that are crippling its economy.
In his speech to the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on
Tuesday, Obama cautiously embraced Rouhani's gestures as the
basis for a possible nuclear deal and challenged him to
demonstrate his sincerity.
However, the failure to orchestrate a handshake between the
two leaders that day, apparently because of Rouhani's concerns
about a backlash from hardliners at home seemed to underscore
how hard it may be to make diplomatic progress.
Rouhani, who took office last month, told a news conference
earlier on Friday he hoped talks with the United States and five
other major powers "will yield, in a short period of time,
tangible results," on a nuclear deal. But he was less specific
than he had been on Tuesday about the time scale.
He said Iran would bring a plan to resolve the decade-long
dispute over Tehran's nuclear program to an October meeting with
the six powers in Geneva.
He offered no details about that plan, but emphasized that
Tehran's nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful.