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”

End Quote

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 113.

    Dun Geonson, we can aiways hope. I reckon there is something in the water.

    India's leader used his speech Saturday at the United Nations to denounce neighboring Pakistan, calling it a state sponsor of terrorism, a day before he meets the Pakistani prime minister.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    111. purple
    Europe just went economic thunderbolt with Italy and Greece in crises political and economic,
    If Italy don't get rid of Berlusconi once and for all they should get kicked out of the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Interesting week ahead

    Overtures from the Middle East which is a nightmare. Europe just went economic thunderbolt with Italy and Greece in crises political and economic, Merkel with new mandate and by the huge jump in CDS rates, the US is going to grind to a halt as the Republicans throw the kitchen sink into sinking Obamacare and lame ducking Obama

  • Comment number 110.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Diplomacy is a wonderful thing so long as polititions can trust each other and that they will all do the righteous thing.

    Unfortunately diplomacy is like living in a pit of poisonous snakes and each viperous coil entwines the cordiality to treachery.

    As a non diplomatic person I am able to stand back from this all and say I do not care two hoots - "Get on with it".

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    104 "Analysis || In this UN act, Iran is the star and Israel is the grump observing from the sidelines"

    This new news is better than the old news as world was fed up with drawing red lines on cartoon bombs crying out for war

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    80. quietoaktree

    #77 Jennings

    You appear a relatively newcomer to these blogs.
    Not really.

    You seem to be spending too much on them though. Affects your objectivity. Turns to confirmation bias. Soon you'll finish all your statements with "FACT".

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    100 cola

    "But never mind the truth Iran is the big bogeyman it's so often said"

    Iran is only the last in a long line of baddies from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and others

    The US has so far been used as a tool to get rid of its 'imagined' enemies to facilitate a takeover of the region

    I hope Obama sticks to his resolve and ignores all blackmail

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Why does the buck always seem to stop with US ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    So Iran/US relations have thawed because of a bunch of short messages posted on the Twitter website?

    Am I missing something or is this the non-news story of the decade?

    Can we please have something more serious on HYS rather than a discussion about a bunch of small messages posted, on the whole, by non-entities?

    Grow up BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    88 presario

    "Nothing less than admission of past errors of judgement, payment of compensation to victims and promises to reform will suffice"

    There isn't enough money in the world if the US were made to compensate victims of its past errors from Vietnam onwards.

    At least after the dreadful Bushes Obama is offering to reform some of US behaviour

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Talk means nothing.It's what they do that counts.If they give up their nuclear weapons program and prove it, end their aggression through their surrogate Hezbollah, live in peace with their neighbors they'll be re-integrated into the community of nations.If not they'll remain isolated.If they appear close to having nuclear weapons capability they'll be attacked to neutralize the threat.Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    97 Israel wanted to attack Iran last year and Obama vetoed.
    Now they won't be able to
    and Netanyahu has to rewrite his UN speech

  • Comment number 100.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    88: Saudi are the leaders of islamic fundamentalism. The idea Iran should pay repatriations. What does the US owe for overthrow legitimate leader, supplying Iraq with satellite information in gulf war, letting Iraq use gas on Iranian troops, shooting down Iranian cicil airliner (by accident)? Get over it, and let's see if they can sort things out. If it pisses off israel, tough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Lyse Doucet et al all get a chance on HYS. The person I respect is my neighbour ...intelligence up the ying yang.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    @92 Dont Run Away Dub

    The one country unhappy with events at the UN and the White House is Israel. AIPAC is furious with Obama it was counting on the US attacking Iran and lobbied members of Congress to that end. Only the destruction of Iran's nuclear installations will satisfy Israel. Israel says "Don't listen to Iranians " but Obama is listening to Iran's Rouhani and giving peace a chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    At the moment, the question is what happened to our comments at Marriage tax and aging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I reflected on US & I ran!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    #88 presario

    ".... Nothing less than admission of past errors of judgement, payment of compensation to victims and promises to reform will suffice."

    --and what if Iran wants the same in return from the USA ?


    #87 and #88 ????

    No rules were broken !

    -- Was very careful !

    --carry on without me.


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