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Editorial: An encouraging crack in the ice

No one expects the frozen relationship between the United States and Iran to thaw overnight. But after decades of icy stares, saber rattling and standoffs, perhaps there’s finally some kind of crack in the diplomatic glacier that stands between the two nations.

The possibility surfaced with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani trip to New York for a United Nations session, where he made conciliatory remarks that caught the world’s attention.

“The environment that has been created is quite different from the past, and those who have brought the change were the people of Iran,” Rouhani said during a press conference. “The first step has been taken here which is a beginning for better relations with other countries and in particular, between the two great nations of Iran and U.S. So the understanding between our peoples will grow and our governments will first stop the escalation of tensions, and then defuse those tensions.”

This and other comments by the Iranian leader during his visit here had Barack Obama doing something that was practically unimaginable — picking up the telephone and calling Rouhani for a 15-minute conversation that has been described as consistenting mostly of pleasantries but also laying a tiny bit of groundwork when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program.

This telephone conversation was the first direct contact between the leaders of the United States and Iran since 1979, the year when Iran’s Islamic revolution led to the sacking of international law and the taking of 52 U.S. hostages from the embassy in Tehran. Since then, the relations between two nations have been, to put it mildly, strained. Fueled by mistrust and fear, they have acted to promote their own interests both in public and behind the scenes. The U.S. has accused, and provided evidence of, Iranian support of terrorism while Iran has charged the U.S. with continued attempts to destabilize its government and society.

All of that makes this telephone conversation quite important.

But one chat does not mean the world will see a more productive and peaceful relationship. Trust, beyond some sort of superficial wishfulness, does not exist.

We see that in the negative reaction by Israel to these developments as well as the reaction inside Iran. And there remains so much more to talk about — especially when it comes to curbing Iran’s nuclear program and the lifting of international sanctions.

But if there is finally a real thawing that allows for diplomatic direct exchanges, rather than through proxy, it should be something the U.S. is willing to explore.

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