A photograph released by the White House shows President Obama speaking to President Rouhani on the phone from the Oval Office
Tehran, Sept. 28: Night had fallen here in the Iranian capital as Hassan Rouhani, the new President of Iran, sent a message via his now-famous Twitter account: he had just gotten off the phone with US President Obama, who had called him.
“Wow, this is fantastic,” said Armin Kay, an engineer, reacting to the news. “The most important thing is that Obama took the initiative. This will go down really well with our leadership.”
It was the first direct conversation between the leaders of Iran and the US since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
There has been little reaction so far from Iran’s political leaders but a senior MP tentatively welcomed the phone conversation, describing it as a sign of Tehran’s “critical importance” in the world and Obama’s “sincerity”.
The Rouhani team’s high-level contacts with the US in New York — the two foreign ministers met on Thursday —were unlikely to have happened without the approval of Iran’s clerical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Amir Mohebbian, a political adviser close to Khamenei, said: “This voice contact has for now replaced the actual shaking of hands, but this is clearly the start of a process that could in the future lead to a face-to-face meeting.”
In Iran, many had been disappointed when Rouhani failed to show up on Tuesday at a UN luncheon, where he had been expected to shake hands with Obama. But the Friday call was almost as good as a handshake.
Nader Karimi Joni, an analyst close to Rouhani, praised the phone call by Obama as “the best thing he could have done”.
Joni, a journalist who has been jailed for opposing the interests of hardliners, said the call was a “verbal farewell for a VIP guest, similar to seeing Rouhani off personally”.
During the weekly Friday prayers in Tehran, one of the most important political platforms in the country, Ayatollah Mahmoud Emami Kashani repeated Obama’s words that the US did not want to change the Iranian government.
“Everybody knows it is impossible to topple the Islamic system. These are only rants,” said the ayatollah, who was appointed by Khamenei.
The seemingly breathless momentum of the diplomacy took some Iranians by surprise. “Things are going really, really fast — faster than expected,” said Mostafa Afzalzadeh, a journalist for several conservative outlets. “It is shocking. I am really curious what people will say tomorrow.”
|Bodyguards surround Rouhani after a shoe
was thrown towards his car on his arrival in
Tehran from New York on Saturday. (AFP)
Some Americans felt that Iran was reaching out only because of the sanctions that have strangled its economy.
Rouhani was visibly irritated when asked whether his diplomatic blitz was merely designed to buy time with his western interlocutors. “We have never chosen deceit as a path,” he said.
Before leaving New York, Rouhani said his government would present a plan in three weeks on how to resolve the nuclear standoff.