The phone call today between President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — the highest-level engagement between American and Iranian officials since 1979 — came at the request of Iran, a senior administration official said on Friday.
The call took place around 2:30 p.m. and lasted around 15 minutes, the official said on a call with reporters.
“We learned earlier today from the Iranians that President Rouhani wanted to speak with President Obama on the phone before he left New York,” the official said. Obama made the call to Rouhani while Rouhani was in the car on the way to the airport, according to the Iranian Mission to the U.N. The two spoke through an interpreter.
The White House had told the Iranians that it was open to an encounter in person at the United Nations General Assembly this week, but the Iranians had turned them down, calling the prospect “too complicated.”
Rouhani’s English-language Twitter feed, which is still not verified, tweeted about the phone call right after it happened — pre-empting a White House announcement.
The administration official said that Rouhani’s tweets were an accurate description of the call.
“We did watch President Rouhani’s Twitter feed, and frankly we’ve watched him use social media to communicate over the last several weeks,” the official said, calling the Iranian president’s use of Twitter a “welcome development.” The two presidents still do not follow each other on Twitter.
“We’ll continue to watch his Twitter feed,” the official said.
The official said that third parties had been informed about the call, including some members of Congress, the Israeli government, and some other U.S. allies.
He would not say whether the Israelis had been informed before or after the call.
At the end of the call, the two presidents said goodbye to each other in their respective languages: Obama told Rouhani goodbye in Farsi, and Rouhani said “Have a nice day” in English.