Rouhani’s US visit ends with historic phone call with Obama

New Iranian leader offers to prepare plan for resolving nuclear stalemate

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani takes questions from journalists during a news conference in New York yesterday. Photograph: Adrees Latif /Reuters

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani takes questions from journalists during a news conference in New York yesterday. Photograph: Adrees Latif /Reuters

Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 01:00

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani ended his week in New York with a striking offer to work fast to defuse tensions with America, hailing the US as “a great nation”.

Later Mr Rouhani and US president Barack Obama held a historic phone call, the highest level conversation between the estranged nations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr Obama said both men had directed their teams to work expeditiously 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 West.

At his press conference, Mr Rouhani made the most conciliatory remarks heard from Tehran in a decade and offered to prepare a concrete plan for resolving the nuclear stalemate at a new round of negotiations in Geneva on October 15th. He said Tehran might go even further, hinting at a possible confidence-building measure to be announced at the talks.

But it was the tone of Mr Rouhani’s speech that was most striking at the end of a week in which he sought to present Iran as a reborn country following his election on June 15th.

“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.

‘Two great nations’
“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 marks a radical change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a break from tradition dating to the 1979 revolution of referring to the US as the “Great Satan”.

Chanting has changed
It also mirrored a change on the streets of Tehran, where the ritual chanting of “Death to America” has almost died out at public gatherings.

Mr Rouhani said he was confident the decade-long impasse over Iran’s nuclear programmes would soon be over, and he pointed to the friendly atmosphere at a meeting of the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, with his counterparts from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, chaired by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday evening.

The Iranian president said the setting of a date for detailed negotiations in Geneva was “a positive step”. – (Guardian service)