President Obama’s phone conversation late last week with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, was a historic ice-breaker after decades of no high-level contact with the leadership of that critical Middle East country.
Some observers said the two presidents should have deliberately run into each other during the first week of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. But a grip-and-grin photo wouldn’t have done either man any good at home in the heated political atmospheres of Tehran and Washington.
It now appears the stage is set for a constructive approach to the primary issue that divides the two nations: Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Iran and the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — and Germany are scheduled this month in Geneva.
Those talks are not specifically about U.S.-Iranian relations. But a deal involving Western economic sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program will be at the core of the discussions.
Mr. Rouhani’s activities last week in New York, including interviews with American journalists, gave signals that Iran is ready to work toward a deal. Nor has he been disowned by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Geneva meeting will give Iran every opportunity to show whether Mr. Rouhani is serious about repairing relations. A failure by Iran to put concrete proposals on the table would be an equally clear signal that Mr. Rouhani’s performance in New York, including his phone conversation with President Obama, was an effort to substitute theater for real willingness to negotiate.
America and the world have every reason to hope that Mr. Rouhani’s posture reflects reality, not subterfuge. The Geneva conference will tell the tale.