Iran nuclear: Obama and Rouhani speak by phone


US President Barack Obama: "The test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions"

US President Barack Obama has spoken by phone to Iran's Hassan Rouhani - the first such top-level conversation in more than 30 years.

Mr Obama spoke of a "unique opportunity" to make progress with Iran's new leadership, amid a flurry of diplomacy over its nuclear programme.

Earlier, Mr Rouhani said Iran was keen to reach a deal soon.

He also asserted that Iran did not seek a nuclear bomb, as Western powers have long suspected.

Describing meetings at the UN this week as a "first step", he said he believed the nuclear issue could be settled "within the not too distant future".

Mr Rouhani said initial discussions had taken place in an environment that was "quite different" from the past.

On his arrival back in Tehran from the UN General Assembly forum in New York, Mr Rouhani was met by a number of key political figures, as well as both supporters and opponents from the public.

A New York Times reporter described the scene as chaotic, with dozens of hardliners hurling eggs and shoes at the president's convoy.

'Full backing'

The call with Mr Obama was made just before Mr Rouhani left New York, where he has been attending the annual summit of the UN General Assembly, Iranian news agency Irna said.


Hassan Rouhani's actions in New York reveal a man dealing with the inherent, overwhelming contradiction of his job: he has a popular mandate without actual power.

In a speech given on 17 September in Tehran, Ali Khamenei approved the use of "heroic flexibility" in diplomacy. This would appear to translate as an instruction to President Rouhani: by all means see what you can get from the Americans, but don't go around shaking Obama's hand.

The ayatollah-approved outreach in New York included the first sustained direct talks between the US and Iran at foreign minister level for more than 30 years.

Hassan Rouhani may be able to recommend a deal, he may be able to explain how concessions are the best way to get sanctions lifted, and improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. But in the end, it is the supreme leader who will have the final say.

White House officials described the 15 minute conversation - apparently initiated by Mr Rouhani - as cordial, the BBC's Bridget Kendall reports from New York.

Mr Obama raised concerns about American prisoners in Iran, but the bulk of the call was about efforts to reach a solution on the nuclear issue, she says.

Afterwards, Mr Obama said: "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."

Mr Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate and was elected in June, has said he wants to reach a deal over the nuclear issue in three to six months.

He says he is fully empowered by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to negotiate.

On Friday, he told a press conference at the UN: "Whatever result we achieve through negotiations my government will have the full backing of all the main branches of power in Iran as well as the support of the people of Iran."

And he said he wanted a deal "within a very short period of time".

'Bomb is dangerous'

Earlier the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had held "very constructive" talks with Iran in Vienna.

IAEA Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts did not give details of Friday's talks, but said the two parties would meet again on 28 October.

"We will start substantial discussions on the way forward to resolving all outstanding issues," Mr Nackaerts said.

Reza Najafi, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, was quoted as saying that the aim was to reach an agreement "as soon as possible" and also spoke of a "constructive discussion".

Start Quote

If Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani can deliver what he has been saying in New York - and if the world's big powers can reciprocate - then there's a real chance to make progress”

End Quote

On Thursday US Secretary of State John Kerry held a rare meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Mr Kerry said he was struck by the "very different tone", but added that Iran still had questions to answer.

There had been speculation that Mr Rouhani and Mr Obama might meet in New York. Mr Rouhani told journalists that "in principle we did not have any problems with having a meeting", but "there was not sufficient time" for planning the encounter.

The Iranian president rebuffed questions about Iran's reliability as a negotiating partner, saying his country wanted to retain nuclear technology but would submit to IAEA supervision.

"We say explicitly that we do not seek a bomb," he said. "We say explicitly that we believe the building of a bomb is dangerous for us - for our region."

The US and China have said they expect Iran to respond to an existing offer by the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany, who form a negotiating group known as the P5+1.

The group has asked Iran to halt production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20% - a step away from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.

They also demanded Iran shut down the Fordo underground enrichment facility, near Qom.

Substantive talks between Iran and the P5+1 are due to take place on 15 October, and Mr Rouhani said Iran would bring a plan to that meeting, though he did not give details.

Iran's key nuclear sites

Key nuclear sites map

Source: 1155/New Scientist Global Security


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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    A solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis would benefit the west, the middle east and Iran itself. At last it seems we have both an American leader and an Iranian leader willing to engage in sensible dialogue rather than posturing rhetoric to satisfy hardliners in their respective countries. A long way to go, but a promising start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    People who say that Rouhani is not really in charge, should look at the case of Otto Von Bismark who was the Chancellor during Germany's second Reich. Ultimately the Kaiser (emperor) had ultimate authority but Bismark had the emperor's confidence to rule as he saw fit, I believe that Rouhani also has that same confidence from the supreme leader to carry out his democratic mandate, be foolish not 2

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I'd like to see the equivalent nuclear sites map for Britain and America.....I think we would be horrified and embarrassed. This is the problem with one sided reporting by the BBC.....I think I'll do my own research and Facebook it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "A NY Times reporter described scene as chaotic, with dozens of hardliners hurling eggs & shoes at president's convoy."
    What was this NY Reporter doing in Tehran?
    Some reporters say US initiated call; some say Iran initiated call. Such an important call: you'd think someone would know for sure!
    Where are all the stones & eggs be hurled at Rouhani; BBC picture looks pretty friendly to me.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Iran Newspapers are full of west-Iran contact e.g.
    -Iran reiterates call for nuclear-weapons-free zone in ME
    -Kerry calls nuclear talks with Zarif ‘constructive’
    -Chief Iranian, U.S. diplomats hold private meeting
    -Rouhani holds high profile meetings in NY, etc.
    BUT nowhere is there mention of this so-called telephone conversation that got so much play in the west.
    How come?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The show throwing and so forth is all theatrical posturing, and should not distract us from much needed dialogue with Tehran.

    The global resistance to the US firing the bullets produced by the French and allowing it to become another Vietnam has sent a message of hope to those who throught reason had been abandoned

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    #5 Cameron and Miliband have unwittingly saved the world!

    If they had their way we'd be at war with Syria and likely Russia too. The US and Hague are still spouting their threats.

    The other MPs are wising up to American demanding we all snap to attention right after it being known they spy on us daily. We aren't allies, we're just an interest to back them up so they can do whatever they want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    "Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been met by hardline protesters chanting "Death to America" on his return from the UN forum in New York."

    Since no protests take place in Iran without regime approval, this all seems like a very odd circus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Men....I'm so sick of hearing about you! You are and always have been 'fools'. Your wars and ways of killing people to make money. Speaking to each other by phone.....who cares.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Positive talk about Syria, the USA and Iran talking to each other civilly.... Both news posts on the bbc at the same time....

    Can we expect the rapture soon?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Good on you Barack. Sorry Benny - may be next time!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I think Hassan Rouhani is genuine in what he says.

    His most difficult trick will be to keep the religious leaders on board. At the moment, they are giving him the power he needs - but if he fails, if he cant get sanctions lifted and get Iran trading fully again with the world, then they will pull the rug out from under him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Rouhani and Obama are both great presidents to seek peace between the US and Iran. A peaceful relationship between US and Iran will a cornerstone of the peaceful middle east.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Getting this right could mean a lot for Obama's standing in the World Diplomacy stakes.

    He's just lost a point or two to Putin over the way he handled Syria - his need to regain some "street cred" on the World diplomatic stage could well lead him to work-out a masterpiece here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Why speak to the secretary when Khamenei is the boss?

    An odd situation talking to someone you know is just the hand-picked fascia for the regime.

    Didn't Forbes list Khamenei as the third richest person on earth? he keeps Iran's wealth in his personal account.

    Anyway, this all seems a bit of a P.R. exercise to lift sanctions. Waging war in Syria and running Hezbollah is an expensive business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I'm looking forward to this getting sorted, if only to see that idiot Netanyahu's blood vessels pop.

    I wonder how he's going to trump last years Acme bomb cartoon today...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I'm beginning to feel a wave of sense and reason is sweeping over our politicians....and it all started with the British parliaments decision not to invade Syria. Cameron and Miliband have unwittingly saved the world!


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