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Rouhani’s charm offensive at UN generate overwhelming support back home - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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 Iranian president Hassan Rowhani is surrounded by his supporters as he arrives at the Mehr-Abad airport in Tehran, Iran, on 28 September 2013, from his trip to New York, USA, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly. (EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH)

Iranian president Hassan Rowhani is surrounded by his supporters as he arrives at the Mehr-Abad airport in Tehran, Iran, on 28 September 2013, from his trip to New York, USA, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly. (EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Barak Hussein Obama held an unprecedented but rather friendly phone conversation at the last minutes on Friday afternoon.

Barring the contradictory reports on who first initiated or requested the phone call, the importance of the conversation is due to 35 years of distrust and enmity between Iran and the United States.

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting on Thursday, Iranian and American foreign ministers attended the P5+1 meeting on Iran’s nuclear program for the first time after 34 years, looking for a way to resolve the 10 years stand-off between Iran and the west.

The news was broken when President Obama announced his phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart at the White House briefing room. President Obama said while “success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution”.

“Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran—one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” President Obama said in his briefing statement.

Referring to the very complex context of normalizing relationship with Iran, Obama stressed that “It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region—one that would help the Iranian people fulfill their extraordinary potential, but also help us to address other concerns that could bring greater peace and stability to the Middle East.”

The official website of the Iranian president published the following note on the historic phone conversation: “The Iranian and US presidents underlined the need for a political will for expediting resolution of West’s standoff with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. President Rouhani and President Obama stressed the necessity for mutual cooperation on different regional issues. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his American counterpart John Kerry have been commissioned to follow up talks between the two countries.”

For days after Rouhani’s arrival in New York on Monday, a major topic of conversation was the possibility of an encounter between the two presidents in the UN corridors to break the taboo of talks between US and Iranian officials.

“Prior to our first trip to New York, the signs of Americans’ tendency for arranging an encounter emerged and were intensified during my stay. However we did not have enough time to arrange it in an appropriate way to discuss all issues so we declined” Fars news agency quoted Rouhani on his arrival in Mehrabad airport.

Rouhani also brushed off suggestions that his refusal to set up a meeting with the American president was a gesture of humiliation, stressing that this was due to technical requirements of meeting with Obama in a more organized manner.

Speaking on how the conversation was initiated the president told reporters: “We were about to leave for the airport when we received a call from the White House expressing that the US president speak with me and while in the car the [second] call was made and we spoke mainly about the nuclear issue,” Rouhani said according to Fars news.

President Rouhani also referred to the 60 years of tension and enmity between Iran and the US, adding this needs a proper framework to resolve.

“I told [the US president] that P5+1 negotiation must accelerate to reach an agreement and stressed that all our actions will be based on dignity, wisdom, and expediency according to the general policies set out by [Iran’s] supreme leader,” Rouhani said.

According to some American pundits, Rouhani’s charm offensive has succeeded and brought the Americans into direct interaction with Iran. The next and most important stage is regarding how the two presidents can handle their strong domestic opponents who reject such diplomacy.

The Iranian president met with two groups of people yesterday morning, one groups expressed their delight and support for his reconciliatory approach on foreign policy and the other condemned his extreme leniency towards the USA. The latter group repeated the three decade old slogan of “Death to America” and according to reports one protester threw a shoe at the presidential convoy as it was leaving the airport.

Almost all Iranian daily newspapers covered the phone call on their front pages while the Iranian rial regained some value against the dollar on the prospect of lifting sanctions.

Iran and P5+1 are scheduled to meet again on October 15 in Geneva to discuss practical ways to resolve the issue. President Rouhani has revealed his intention to resolve the stand-off within a 3 to 6 month period.