by Jasmin Ramsey
I feel like i’m witnessing a tectonic shift in the geo-political landscape reading @HassanRouhani tweets. Fascinating.
— dick costolo (@dickc) September 27, 2013
That tweet via Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in response to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s account of his phone conversation with President Obama summarizes what many people are feeling: today may mark the beginning of a US-Iran detente — or even rapprochement. (Rouhani retweeted Costolo by the way).
I was driving back to Washington, DC from New York City with Jim when all this happened. The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson (who I saw this week at the UN along with many other journalists I admire) explains today’s events, which, to Jim’s dismay, were also reported on Twitter:
That sentiment was also expressed in Rouhani’s semi-official Twitter account, where he described what Obama told him across three tweets strung together: “I express my respect for you and ppl of #Iran. I’m convinced that relations between Iran and US… will greatly affect region. If we can make progress on #nuclear file, other issues such as #Syria will certainly be positively affected… I wish you a safe and pleasant journey and apologize if you’re experiencing the [horrendous] traffic in #NYC.”
Rouhani described his response to Obama in four tweets: “In regards to #nuclear issue, with political #will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter… We’re hopeful about what we see from P5+1 and your [government] in particular in coming weeks and months… I express my gratitude for your #hospitality and your phone call. Have a good day Mr. President… Thank you, Khodahafez [God preserve you].”
A final tweet showed a smiling Rouhani on his airplane “after historic phone conversation with @BarackObama…about to depart for Tehran.”
This White House statement by the President following his call with Rouhani — like Zarif’s description of his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday — was incredibly positive. It may be the most positive message put out by the US government on Iran since before its 1979 revolution:
Just now, I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York — 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.
Meanwhile, Rouhani and Zarif may be receiving a hero’s welcome back home. Here’s how some of the press is reacting:
Tehran papers go for a 2nd print to cover the historic call. This headline: Behind the line, it was Obama. pic.twitter.com/pU6jwKXVmj
— RezaAsadi (@RezaAsadi) September 28, 2013
As well as some average Iranians:
— Negar Mortazavi (@NegarMortazavi) September 28, 2013
What should we expect next? Well, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be visiting the White House on Sept. 30 and addressing the UNGA on Oct. 1 (he reportedly delayed his speech specifically so he could meet Obama). It has already been suggested that Netanyahu will compare Iran to North Korea at the UN — a continuation of his description of Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Israel boycotted Iran’s speech at the UNGA on Tuesday and has been alleging that Iran has been questing for a nuclear weapon for years, so it will be interesting to see if Netanyahu continues this line next week. And then, how will Obama respond to Netanyahu and our sanctions-loving Congress? And for Iran’s part, how will hardliners in Tehran respond to Rouhani and Zarif’s hope-inspiring trip to America? The next talks between Iran and the P5+1 negotiating team are scheduled in Geneva, from Oct. 15- 16. That’s almost two weeks from now, which leaves lots of room for additional significant developments if the pace set by Iran and the US this week continues.
The devil truly is in the details with respect to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. But everything that happened this week while we were at the UN (much of which we tried to recount for you here), and the amazing speed at which 34 years of icy-to-hostile relations between the US and Iran seem to have shifted direction, suggests something very important has taken place.
After Zarif briefed us about his historic bilateral meeting with Kerry at the Asia Society/CFR-hosted conversation with Rouhani last night, the President was asked what he thought of Zarif’s glowing description. His response to Asia Society president Josette Sheeran seems incredibly apt right now:
SHEERAN: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister (OFF-MIKE) last word. So now you’ve heard the report. Is this the kind of window of opportunity you were looking for, the first such meeting of this kind in 35 years? What do you take from the process?
ROUHANI (through translator): Well, you asked for the first step. They took it. You asked for the first step. They took it.