Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 2)
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and President Barack Obama have spoken by phone. It's the first conversation between presidents of the two nations in more than 30 years.
The Associated Press
President Barack Obama makes a statement regarding the budget fight in Congress and foreign policy challenges in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone Friday, the first conversation between American and Iranian presidents in more than 30 years. The exchange could reflect a major step in resolving global concerns over Iran's nuclear program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Obama came to the White House briefing room to announce the conversation about an hour after the call ended. The White House said it doesn't know what made Rouhani initiate the call, but that it sees an encouraging meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif this week as a crucial factor.
"I do believe that there is a basis for resolution," Obama said. He said an agreement could usher in a new era of mutual interest and respect between the United States and Iran, but he also said it would require Iran to take "meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions" concerning its nuclear program.
"A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult. And at this point both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome," Obama said. "But I believe we've got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran."
In a sign of modernization in Iran, the news broke on Twitter a couple of minutes before Obama spoke, in an account that people close to Rouhani say is written by a former campaign aide who remains in close contact with the president's inner circle. A Rouhani adviser said the president doesn't tweet himself or direct what is written. The White House said that the tweets were an accurate description of the call.
The two men talked through interpreters, but the tweet from @HassanRouhani said they ended by signing off in each other's language. "In a phone conversation b/w #Iranian & #US Presidents just now: @HassanRouhani: 'Have a Nice Day!' @BarackObama: 'Thank you. Khodahafez,'" the tweet said, quoting Obama as using the Farsi word for good-bye.
The White House had reached out to Tehran earlier this month to offer a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday or Tuesday, but Rouhani declined at the time. Rouhani may have asked for the phone call before he left the U.S. to avoid the impression that he snubbed Obama at the United Nations when the two failed to meet.
It remains unclear whether obstacles will be raised by Iran's hard-line forces such the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which had warned Rouhani about moving too fast with his overtures with the West. Even so, Iran's official news agency said Obama and Rouhani "underlined the need for a political will for expediting resolution of West's standoff with Iran over the latter's nuclear program."
Despite the animosity between the two countries, U.S. officials have been in contact with Iranians numerous times over the last three decades, including President Ronald Reagan secretly sending his national security adviser, Robert McFarlane, to Iran as part of an arms-for-hostages deal. And the two countries have had episodes of cooperation, particularly in the first Gulf war. The coldest relations were in the first phase after the 1979 Revolution — and the taking of American hostages after the U.S. Embassy was overrun — and during the Ahmadinejad era.
Both sides said the presidents directed their top diplomats, Zarif and Kerry, to continuing pursing an agreement, with Iranian and U.N. officials have agreed to meet again Oct. 28. Obama said the U.S. will coordinate closely with its allies — including Israel, which considers Iranian nuclear weapon capability a deadly threat.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has said his meeting on Monday with Obama at the White House will focus on the Iranian issue.
Israel has viewed Rouhani's outreach to the West with great skepticism, saying he is trying to trick the world into easing sanctions and hoping to buy time while he pushes forward with attempts to build a nuclear weapon. Israeli leaders have compared Rouhani's diplomacy to that of North Korea, which quietly developed a nuclear weapon while engaging the West.
The U.S. informed Israel of the call, a senior administration official said.