President Barack Obama has told Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in an exchange of letters that the United States is ready to resolve its nuclear dispute with Iran in a way that allows Tehran to show it is not trying to build weapons, the White House said Wednesday. And in an interview with ABC News the same day, Rouhani said Iran would never develop nuclear weapons, and revealed that he had been given full authority by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to negotiate a deal with the U.S.
"In his letter, the president indicated that the U.S. is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"The letter also conveyed the need to act with a sense of urgency to address this issue because, as we have long said, the window of opportunity for resolving this diplomatically is open, but it will not remain open indefinitely."
In the first American TV interview of his presidency, Rouhani reiterated Iran's longstanding position that it would never develop nuclear weapons, and hailed his interactions with Obama as "positive and constructive."
"It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future," the Iranian president added.
Since Rouhani was elected as president in June, he has called for "constructive interaction" with the world. The head of Iran's nuclear energy organization said Wednesday that he saw "openings" on the nuclear issue.
While the U.S. does not believe Iran is currently building nuclear weapons, Tehran is steadily mustering the capacity to do so under the rubric of a nuclear program it insists is strictly for civilian purposes. Iran's failure to fully comply with Non-Proliferation Treaty transparency requirements has resulted in a series of U.N. Security Council sanctions, which have been reinforced by far harsher U.S. and European sanctions that have taken a heavy toll on Iran's economy.
Obama said on Tuesday that he is willing to test the willingness of Rouhani to discuss the nuclear issue.
"There is an opportunity here for diplomacy," Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo in an interview. "And I hope the Iranians take advantage of it."
Obama and Rouhani plan to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York next Tuesday, but the leaders do not currently have plans to meet, Carney said. Iran has released 11 high-profile political prisoners ahead of Rouhani's trip to the General Assembly.
Israel, which takes a hawkish view of Iran's intentions, remains skeptical of moves toward diplomatic rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.
The head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Shaul Chorev, accused Iran of "deception and concealment, creating a false impression about the status of its engagement with the [International Atomic Energy] Agency ... with a view to buy more time in Iran's daily inching forward in every aspect of its nuclear military program."
And that may simply be a foretaste of the challenge Obama will face in selling any diplomatic solution to the decade-old deadlock.
Al Jazeera and Reuters