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US and Iranian presidents speak by phone in first direct contact since 1979

The call to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme shows evidence of an unprecedented opening of relations between the two nations.

President Obama making his statement about the phonecall.
President Obama making his statement about the phonecall.
Image: Charles Dharapak/AP/Press Association Images

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone today — the first direct contact between leaders of their two nations since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The call, which came after the two leaders failed to meet at the UN General Assembly in New York, provided dramatic evidence of an unprecedented opening in relations between the Islamic Republic and a foe it has reviled as the “Great Satan.”

“Just now, I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Obama said in a televised statement.

“The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme,” Obama said.

“We’re mindful of all the challenges ahead. The very fact that this was the first communication between an American and Iranian president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history. I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution.”

Obama said he told Rouhani that he believed a “resolution” was possible to the dispute over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which the West believes is a covert effort to produce nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Washington and Israel have both warned of the possibility of military action if diplomacy fails to assuage their concerns over the nuclear program.

Twitter

The Iranian presidency confirmed the telephone call between Obama and Rouhani.

“The two insisted on political will for quick resolution to the nuclear issue, as well as paving the ground for resolving other issues and cooperation in regional issues,” the presidency said on its website.

A Twitter account run by Rouhani’s office also gave details of the call.

“In phone convo, President Rouhani and President @BarackObama expressed their mutual political will to rapidly solve the nuclear issue,” one tweet said.

imagePresident Rouhani listens to a question as security personnel wait in the wings during a discussion at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan yesterday (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Another tweet paraphrasing Rouhani read: “I express my gratitude for your hospitality and your phone call. Have a good day Mr President”.

Obama meanwhile even apologised for the traffic in New York, according to a Rouhani tweet, in a startling sign of the new tone in relations between the two longtime enemies.

The call took place after pathbreaking bilateral talks yesterday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the UN — on the sidelines of wider discussions on the nuclear programme between Iran and major world powers.

Rouhani earlier continued his charm offensive in New York, a trip which set the next high level talks on the nuclear program next month.

He said in a press conference that Iran would present a plan at the talks in Geneva to resolve concerns over its nuclear programme and vowed never to deviate from promises to the West.

“Iran will prepare that plan and will present it in Geneva. We hope it will serve as an even more effective step to settle the nuclear issue,” Rouhani said.

Rouhani said he hoped to resolve the nuclear row in a “short period of time,” a day after his foreign minister said that major powers had set a goal of a deal within one year.

The soft-spoken cleric swept to power in June, succeeding the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on promises to ease tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, which has triggered a crippling US-led campaign of sanctions on Iran.

© AFP, 2013

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