U.S. President Barack Obama says he has spoken by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rohani in the first direct conversation between U.S. and Iranian presidents in more than 30 years.
The conversation came hours after Rohani called the United States a "great" nation, a stark reversal from his predecessors, as intense diplomatic efforts by both sides appeared to be gaining traction.
“We’re mindful of all the challenges ahead," Obama told reporters. "The very fact that this [phone call] was the first communication between an American and an Iranian president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history."
After the call, Obama said he was hopeful a deal can be done to ease international concerns over the scope of Iran's nuclear program.
"I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution," Obama said. "Iran’s supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons; President Rohani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons; I’ve made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations."
Rohani said on a Twitter feed believed to be genuine that in his phone conversation he told Obama, "Have a Nice Day!" and Obama responded with "Thank you. Khodahafez (goodbye)."
Rohani and Obama spoke on September 27, just before Rohani departed for Tehran following his attendance of the UN General Assembly in New York earlier in the week.
A senior Obama official said Iranian officials approached their U.S. counterparts and said Rohani wanted to speak with Obama by phone before he left the United States.
That came after the U.S. offer earlier in the week to arrange a face-to-face meeting of the two men, which the Iranians said would be too complicated. The official said Washington "made a standing offer" for Obama to speak to Rohani.
The official said Obama also expressed to Rohani U.S. concern over the fate of three U.S. citizens in Iran. Robert Levinson went missing from Kish Island in Iran in March 2007. Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. marine, has been detained since August 2011. Saeed Abedini has been detained since September 2012 on charges related to his religious beliefs, and has reportedly suffered physical abuse in Iranian detention.
In the wake of the conversation with Obama, Rohani has returned to Tehran to a mixed reception.
Iranian media said hundreds of Rohani supporters turned up at the airport.
But about 100 hard-liners shouting "Death to America" reportedly pelted his car with eggs and stones in protest.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency said one protester threw his shoes at the car, a deeply insulting gesture in the Muslim world.
Rohani, who took office last month, also said he hoped talks with the United States and five other major powers "will yield, in a short period of time, tangible results," on a nuclear deal.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Rohani said Iran would bring a plan to resolve the decade-long dispute over Tehran's nuclear program to an October meeting with the six powers in Geneva.
Rohani has pledged to reduce nuclear tensions, and UN officials said they have seen encouraging signs from Tehran.
Iran has repeatedly denied Western charges it is secretly conducting a nuclear-weapons program.
With reporting by AP, AFP, RFE/RL, and dpa