By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IIP Staff Writer
27 September 2013
President Obama spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by telephone September 27, the first direct contact between an American and Iranian president in 34 years, in an effort to reach agreement over Iran’s secretive nuclear development 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,” Obama told journalists at the White House September 27. When both leaders were in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, they did not meet.
Obama said he has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to continue pursuing diplomatic efforts with the Iranian government. Kerry participated in talks September 26 at U.N. headquarters with the foreign ministers of the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany and Russia together with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The negotiating group is known as the P5+1 because it includes the five permanent members iof the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
“Going forward, President Rouhani and I have directed our teams to continue working expeditiously, in cooperation with the P5+1, to pursue an agreement,” Obama said. The P5+1 has met over the years with Iranian negotiators over that country’s nuclear development program.
Obama acknowledged the challenges the nations face in these talks, but he said the direct discussion with Rouhani, the first such communication since 1979, underscores the deep mistrust between the two countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that period.
“I do believe that there is a basis for resolution,” Obama said.
Obama said he has been encouraged by newly elected President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement with the major powers over its disputed nuclear program. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has issued a fatwa — an Islamic religious ruling — against the development of nuclear weapons, and Rouhani has recently said Iran never will develop nuclear weapons.
Kerry told journalists at the United Nations September 26 that he and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif agreed to find a way to answer the many questions the international community has raised about Iran’s nuclear program.
“Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, which was welcome, doesn’t answer those questions yet,” Kerry said. “All of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today, that he did put some possibilities on the table.”
Kerry and Zarif held a one-on-one meeting at the U.N. headquarters after Zarif met with P5+1 foreign ministers. The P5+1 meeting was led by European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Ashton had met separately with Zarif in New York on September 23.
According to senior State Department officials, Zarif met with the group of foreign ministers for approximately 20 minutes in what Ashton later described as an “energetic” presentation.
At issue is Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which the international community has long believed was part of a larger program for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have claimed that the uranium enrichment processing has been for use in a medical research reactor near Tehran and for electricity generation. As a consequence, the United Nations and the United States and the international community have imposed a series of political and economic sanctions.
Zarif presented Iran’s desire to reach an agreement over its nuclear development program and also implement it within a year’s time, the senior officials said. “He reassured everyone that Iran does not want nuclear weapons and all of the reasons why it made no sense for them to have them, and then laid on the table some ideas that he had about how we should go forward,” a senior official said.
The main message from the foreign ministers was to welcome this new opening after many years of discussion and then a lapse for several years, the senior State Department official said. The ministers praised the tone of the discussions and the desire to work cooperatively to find a solution that meets the concerns of the international community.
“Every minister talked about the need for concrete results and concrete measures,” the senior official said.
The senior official said that the foreign ministers and Zarif agreed to put negotiations on a fast track and hold a substantive round of talks by senior diplomats on October 15–16 in Geneva.
Obama announced during his address to the United Nations on September 24 that Kerry would pursue a renewed diplomatic effort with the five permanent Security Council members and Germany with Iran’s new foreign minister over his country’s nuclear weapons development program.
The president said that “the roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential.”