Obama speaks by phone to Iran's Rouhani, sees chance for progress

Reuters

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama andIranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone on Friday, thehighest-level contact between the two countries since theIranian Revolution in 1979 and a sign that both sides areserious about reaching a pact on Iran's nuclear program.

Obama had hoped to meet with Rouhani earlier this week whileboth men were in New York for the United Nations GeneralAssembly, but Iran decided a meeting would be too complicated.

"I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in NewYork. While there will surely be important obstacles to movingforward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we canreach a comprehensive solution," Obama said at the White House.

Obama said both men had directed their teams to workexpeditiously toward an agreement on the nuclear issue.

Rouhani said on a Twitter feed believed to be genuine thatin his phone conversation he told Obama "Have a Nice Day!" andObama responded with "Thank you. Khodahafez (goodbye)."

The two men "expressed their mutual political will torapidly solve the nuclear issue," the Twitter account said.

As president, Rouhani is the head of the government but haslimited powers. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is theultimate authority in Iran with final say on domestic andforeign policy, though Rouhani says he has been given fullauthority to negotiate on the nuclear issue.

Obama made reference to that power structure in his remarksand suggested that an agreement could achieve what Iran'sleaders desire: winding down of crippling economic sanctions.

"Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against thedevelopment of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicatedthat Iran will never develop nuclear weapons," Obama said.

"I've made clear that we respect the right of the Iranianpeople to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iranmeeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful,transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relieffrom the comprehensive international sanctions that arecurrently in place."

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