US and Iranian presidents tweet 'same language'

President Obama speaks to President Rouhani on the phone, 27 September 2013 "Have a nice day!" the Iranian president told his US counterpart

Suddenly a world which worries about an unpredictable nuclear state has been taken aback by a new kind of power.

Now it's Iran's "charm offensive" that's causing a stir.

A country whose image is often portrayed in black veils and clenched fists now has a smiling, twinkly-eyed, tweeting president reaching out to the West.

When news broke on Friday of a historic telephone call in New York between an American and an Iranian president, social media fizzed with excitement and euphoria.

"Given how painless that was, and how many millions of people it made happy, it's amazing it took 34 years to make that call," remarked leading Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Biggest taboo

One of the most extraordinary tweets from the @HassanRouhani twitter account was: "In a phone conversation b/w #Iranian & #US Presidents just now: @hassanRouhani: "Have a Nice Day!"

@BarackObama: "Thank you. Khodahafez [Goodbye]."

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The return to Tehran descended into a chaotic reminder of Iran's fractious politics”

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After three decades of talking past each other, the Iranian and American leaders seemed to be speaking the same language, at least for some of the words it takes to fill 140 characters on Twitter.

"The biggest taboo in Iranian politics has been broken," remarked Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group.

While on his trip to New York during the United Nations General Assembly, President Rouhani even dropped one of the defining anti-American slogans of the Islamic Revolution. He referred to the United States as "the great nation", rather than "the Great Satan."

But like a late-night celebration which loses its sparkle in the bright light of day, so did a tantalising buzz lose some of its allure.

By the time the Iranian president and his entourage landed in Tehran, the stream of tweets describing his 15-minute conversation with President Obama had been removed from his account.

And after a New York visit which seemed carefully choreographed, the return to Tehran descended into a chaotic reminder of Iran's fractious politics.

"He returned to reality on the ground," observed my Iranian colleague Amir Paivar watching developments from London.

President Rouhani surrounded by bodyguards after shoes were thrown at him on arrival in Tehran from New York, 28 September 2013 President Rouhani received a mixed reception at the airport in Tehran

A reality check came from both sides of a political divide often defined by attitudes to opening up to the West. "Long live Rouhani, everlasting change," chanted one group while cries of "Death to America" rose loudly from another.

Even eggs and shoes were hurled.

Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times, one of the few Western journalists in Tehran, reported that "President Rouhani was trying to keep smiling but security people tried to shield him off with an umbrella, then pulled him into car and drove off."

Political protection was provided by the official who received him - Dr Ali Akbar Velayati, representative of Iran's most powerful player, the spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It sent a signal that the elected President Rouhani is the Ayatollah's man, empowered by him to achieve results, especially when it comes to easing the sanctions crippling Iran's economy.

"The excitement is outside, we still don't feel it here," a leading businessman in Tehran told me by telephone. "Nothing has happened yet when it comes to sanctions."


Still, social media in Iran was awash with the cautious hopes of those in a young generation with access to the internet, who are chafing at a life of rules and restrictions.

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In the past one side was ready and the other was not”

End Quote Trita Parsi

Optimism of some kind was also evident in a tweet which wasn't removed from President Rouhani's account. A photograph showed the 64-year-old cleric beaming just after he finished his momentous telephone call and boarded the plane to take him home.

"President Rouhani is a pragmatic politican," explained Ali Vaez. "He had the courage to cultivate this historic moment for thawing relations with the US whilst having the prudence to do it in a way that would reduce risks for a domestic backlash."

Informed observers believe Ayatalloh Khamanei, known to be deeply suspicious of the West's intentions, has given the reformist president a window to show results.

That may explain why President Rouhani spoke, with surprising optimism, of a nuclear deal within three to six months.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks about his meeting with John Kerry, 26 September 2013 Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met US Secretary of State John Kerry for more substantive talks

Much will depend on how the international community responds to this outreach.

"In the past one side was ready and the other was not," commented Trita Parsi in a nod to years of missed opportunities for some kind of engagement.

"Now two sides are moving at the same time," said Parsi who heads the US-based National Iranian American Council.

President Obama has made clear that "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".

In New York, President Rouhani reiterated his country's key demand in years of protracted nuclear talks . "We will never forego our inherent right to benefit from peaceful nuclear technology, including enrichment."

But he also emphasised Iran would "leave no stone unturned" to reassure the world that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful.

There's still some scepticism and cynicism over this new-look Iran. The loudest warning came from Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who's described the Iranian president as "a wolf in sheep's clothing".

A change in tone will soon be put to the test in the next round of talks between Iran and world powers set to take place in Geneva in mid-October.

The first encounter in New York, where Iran's American-educated Foreign Minister Javad Zarif opened the meeting and sat next to the US Secretary of State John Kerry sent an even more substantial message of change than the presidential call.

In the end, it will come down to what will be many months of old fashioned face-to-face talks between two countries, with a history of enmity and fundamentally different world views, which now realise there are good reasons to engage.

There are also certain to be many more mundane telephone calls and, perhaps, a more restrained succession of tweets.

Suddenly a world which worries about an unpredictable nuclear state has been taken aback by a new kind of power.

Lyse Doucet Article written by Lyse Doucet Lyse Doucet Chief international correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Generally, it's good to talk and avoid war. But sometimes the enemy is so twisted, psychopathic & murderous that it should be crushed or neutralized, not flattered by talks. I believe the Iranian regime (like the Nazi and Pol Pot regimes) to be in this category.

    The UK public is a weak, appeasing one, but thankfully the US & Israel have retained their backbones and will act as necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    @26.Matthew & 23 Jeegy

    Someone clearly committed the BBC cardinal sin & told the truth on these other HYS issues - careful what you say about Iran!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Of for god's sake. Such stupidity! As if Lyse or anyone else know the truth.....have to kiss their *****

    Just guys doing what they do best........

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Nothing of substance has changed yet. Only time will tell if Iran will give up its nuclear weapons program aimed at attacking the US and intimidating its neighbors including Arab states. Whether it will defuse what could become a nuclear arms race in the Mideast. Whether it will stop using Hezbollah as its terrorist arm. As it appears to be close to having nuclear weapons technology time is short.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Lyse, you tend - here and elsewhere - to be an apologist for Islamists. I find it deeply disturbing.

    You talk of Iran's bad "image". Image? The broken bodies of Jewish children in Argentina, victims of a mass murder conspiracy traced to Iran - is that image or reality? Or the foiled Iranian plot to blow up the Saudi Embassy & a restaurant in DC? Can't you recognize evil when you see it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @24 Sibbwolf
    "We don't want Iran or north Korea to acquire, not out of fear as to what they might do,but that our hands might be forced to retaliate"

    Yes, Mutually Assured Destruction - MAD,MAD & MAD.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Rouhani flew to New York to phone Obama?
    Sounds like an expenses scandal to me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @23 Jeegy

    Good point the subject:- Charities warn government over ageing population

    Has also disappeared may have something to do with the comments challenging the status silver spoon quo in the Country ah well, we do live in a democracy, not....

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The Iranian high command have smelt blood in the water since the Sarin debacle!?

  • Comment number 24.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    May I ask where the other HYS comments are on the other topics - they seemed to have disappeared! (e.g. marriage tax break!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    17 Billy Goat Gruff - The UN is as powerless as it was made in 1945. It's also often where people posture. Less public methods risk less, and often produce more. 19. PhilKs - Do we blame Obama for Bush's speeches and attitudes? (There are those who still hold to them). Iran is the same. Let them try and don't condemn them out of hand

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    And how many people in Iran have access to twitter again???

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Personally I think all this tweeting rubbish just trivializes what is a serious issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This 'thaw' can only be a good thing, but with certain protesters shouting "death to America" and "death to Israel" it beggars belief that people still refuse to see the necessity of Israel and the West retaining the ultimate deterrent of nuclear weapons for themselves. This extremism is real and poses a genuine threat to regional stability. We shouldn't be horse trading with nukes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Sometimes i feel some in the isreali government don't want to sort out the middle east. The USA has a history of coming to terms - Nixon and China, Reagan and Gorbachov. Bold action that made thing better. Bound to be opposition on both sides as well. Just don't let Israel's (uinderstandable) mistrust dictate reactions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    We have the UN to discuss things between nations and instead they are using a privately owned social media site. Says everything you need to know about the world and the UN.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @15 Sibbwolf, totally agree they do not hold the monopoly on 3rd form politics it is a worrying problem that we seem not to be able to elect or maybe educate politicians in the art of diplomacy.
    @Zuni, as bad as Hamas and Hezbollah are behaving you cannot deny the involvement of Israels agents in the murders of Nuclear scientists within Iran.
    All state sponsored terrorism should be put on ice !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    @zuni, they would not be the first, or latest, country to fund groups to fight proxy wars for them.

    @Paul (12), unfortunately the childish foreign policy (or even domestic politics) was never limited to those two countries. Israel has already rejected out of hand the latest advances, which included accepting the holocaust (all 11million deaths).

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Funny I clicked on the tax break for married couples and although it is in HAVE YOUR SAY no comments section. Something wrong here BBC.


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