U.S. and Iran: reconciliation between Hussein and Hassan?

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

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History was made when on Friday afternoon American President Obama called his counterpart in Iran, President Rowhani while he was preparing to leave for the airport.

The desire for a phone call came from the Iranian side, they asked the White House for the phone call from President Obama.

Ready to leave New York City for Tehran after four days’ hard work trying to improve Iran’s image during the General Assembly meeting at the United Nations, Rowhani had an unfinished task to achieve!

For days Rowhani repeated that he is fully authorized to take any necessary steps to improve Iran’s relationship with the international community and solve the nuclear issue.

Making a move

Obama, during his speeches on the opening day of the General Assembly at the United Nations, clearly indicated that there is an extraordinary opportunity available when he was addressed Iran with a very soft tone.

Iranians knew that the ground couldn’t be prepared for President Obama to take the initiative if Rowhani didn’t show tolerance and a softer tone towards Israel

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

What Obama said meant that perhaps both presidents could seize the opportunity to warm-up relations if they make aims for the future today.

Rowhani, an incredibly smart and intelligent moderate clergyman, got the point and seized the opportunity by requesting a phone call before leaving the U.S.. The 34 years of mistrust and disputes between the two countries has been melted with a 15-minute phone conversation.

Rowhani avoided a direct face-to-face conversation and hand shake with Obama due to the difficulties and over reactions he estimated would hardliners back in Iran would confront him with.

Perhaps clever Mr. Rowhani thought there might not be any another time for both presidents if he did not show courage on this occasion. He took the risk and made the impossible mission possible.

Thinking smart

Upset Israeli President Benyamin Netanyahu is due to visit Washington D.C. on Monday to meet with Obama. Netanyahu seems isolated these days and no one cares to listen to his claims that Iran’s new president is lying to buy time and build a nuclear bomb.

Actually, this phone conversation wasn’t granted to Iranian officials as easily as one may think. Iranian officials had been so careful of what they were doing and saying during their visit to New York, especially when it came to talk about Jews and Israel.

Iranians knew that the ground couldn’t be prepared for President Obama to take the initiative if Rowhani didn’t show tolerance and a softer tone towards Israel, the closet ally of the United States.

Rowhani, in an interview with CNN, acknowledged the holocaust and called it a crime which was committed against humanity by the Nazis.

However, his remarks were later denied and the Iranians accused the CNN of fabricating the story, courtesy of a poor translator.

This was basically the denial issued for the domestic market in Iran, for it is clear that Rowhani said what has been translated on air to Christian Amanpuor, the famous CNN presenter. In another event Rowhani, at his first speech at the U.N., adopted a softer tone towards Israel; he didn’t called for destruction of Israel or call them Zionist, occupier regime. On the second day of his visit he stunned the audience when he was speaking at the Nuclear Disarmament conference and publicly said: “Israel has to sign the NPT.” He used the word of Israel as an indirect recognition of state of Israel!

All those changes and softer tones did not go unnoticed by President Obama and his advisors who were perhaps convinced that Iran’s leadership shifted their foreign diplomacy in a bid to come back to the international community as a friendly nation without hostility towards any country.

Rowhani’s phone conversation with Obama over shadowed the importance of face-to-face talks between U.S. Secretary of the State John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, on Thursday on the sidelines of their meeting with the 5+1group at the U.N.. The next and most important meeting between Iran and 5+1 is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Geneva.

For many Iranians, who may not remember the old glory days of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi when Iran was respected and powerful, the dream is seeing their country on a better path. This post revolution generation knows that in order to have a better life and future, the country needs to make up with West. This is especially so as Rowhani was elected with a high number of votes because he told frustrated Iranians that he has the key to open the door of happiness and hope.

This phone conversation was a triumph for many Iranians. The door was unlocked and needs to be opened! What Iranians care about now is that Hassan talks to Hussein, a reference to the famous Islamic middle name of President Obama. It sounds like they are two brothers!

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 1, 2013.


Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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