Obama, Rouhani discuss Iran’s nuclear program in phone conversation

U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have broken a 34-year-old freeze in foreign relations by speaking with one another on the phone Friday.

Obama discussed the conversation at a White House press briefing, ahead of making an announcement about the potential U.S. government shutdown.

It’s the first time leaders of the two countries have spoken since the 1979 hostage crisis.

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“The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. I reiterated to President Rouahani what I said in New York. While there will surely be important obstacles in moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution,” Obama said.

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He said discussions between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Jarava Zarif and partners — including the European Union, the other permanent member nations of the UN Security Council and Germany (referred to as the P5 plus one) — were “constructive” and the two leaders had directed their teams to continue working on an agreement that could lead to an end to international sanctions on Iran.

“We’re mindful of all of the challenges ahead. The very fact that this was the first communications between an American and Iranian president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history,” the U.S. president said.

Obama said there was a responsibility to pursue a resolution and that this was a “unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.

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“Iran’s Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamanei] has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations,” he said.
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Obama said the U.S. will co-ordinate closely with its allies, including Israel, which considers an Iranian nuclear weapon capability to be an existential threat.

Iranian and U.N. officials have been meeting to continue talks on how to investigate suspicions that Iran has worked secretly on developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies that claim.

There was speculation Rouhani and Obama might meet face-to-face while at the UN General Assembly. But Rouhani turned down an opportunity, saying it would be “too complicated” at this time.

Messages regarding Friday’s conversation were posted to a Twitter account linked to Rouhani, saying the two leaders expressed their mutual respect for each other’s countries.

The tweets appeared moments before Obama spoke on television.

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*NOTE: The three tweets above were later deleted from the account

*With files from The Associated Press