Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Tuesday that US President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hasan Rouhani exchanged letters.
According to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, Obama sent Rouhani a message of congratulations on the occasion of his election in June, marking the first diplomatic communication between leaders of the US and Iran in some three decades. Tehran did not specify the nature of Iran’s response.
“As we have seen in news reports, this letter has been exchanged,” the ISNA news agency quoted Afkham as saying. “The mechanism for exchanging these letters is through current diplomatic channels.”
The two leaders will participate in the UN General Assembly in New York next week, with Obama expected to address the plenum on Tuesday morning, and Rouhani to address the same forum for the first time on Tuesday afternoon. The overlap, along with the revelation of communications which was also confirmed by Obama on Sunday, seemed to signal that the two might might meet unofficially on the sidelines of the UNGA.
Plans for a formal meeting were denied by White House Spokesman Jay Carney, who said Monday in a carefully worded comment, that “we currently have no plan for Obama to meet with his Iranian counterpart next week,” while adding that the US government “remains ready to engage with the Rouhani government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful resolution.”
The United States and Iran cut off formal ties after students and Islamic militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage in 1980. Officials from both countries have expressed readiness to find a diplomatic solution to a decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, over which the West has imposed economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The US and its allies suspect Iran is working toward nuclear weapons capability while Tehran insists that its program will only be used for civilian purposes.
German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Monday that Iran will be willing to close its uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in return for an easing of Western sanctions, suggesting that Rouhani might make this offer at the General Assembly. Carney referred to the possibility of reaching a settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear power, saying Monday that “actions speak louder than words,” but added that “we remain hopeful that there is a possibility of making progress on this issue.”