WASHINGTON (AP) — Breaking a third-of-a-century diplomatic freeze, President Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone yesterday.
In a historic shift from years of unwavering animosity, they agreed to work toward resolving their deep dispute over Tehran’s nuclear efforts.
Rouhani, who earlier in the day called the United States a “great” nation, reached out to arrange the call. The White House said an encouraging meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week was a crucial factor in the thaw.
“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 told reporters at the White House.
Rouhani, at a news conference in New York, linked the U.S. and Iran as “great nations,” a remarkable reversal from the anti-American rhetoric of his predecessors. He expressed hope that at the very least the two governments can stop the escalation of tensions.
Rouhani has repeatedly stressed that he has “full authority” in his outreach to the U.S., a reference to the apparent backing by Iran’s ultimate decision-maker: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Such support would give Rouhani a political mandate that could extend beyond the nuclear issue to possible broader efforts at ending the long estrangement between Washington and Tehran.
It remains unclear, however, 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.
Yesterday’s telephone call — Obama at the White House, Rouhani in a limousine on the way to the airport after diplomatic meetings at the United Nations — marked perhaps the most hopeful steps toward reconciliation in decades.