U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke on the phone for 15 minutes on Friday, the first dialogue between the leaders of the two countries since 1979, when the pro-American Shah was ousted in a revolution.
It was Rouhani, who was in New York for the UN General Assembly, who sought the contact. The two leaders apparently agreed on the need to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff as soon as possible by peaceful means.
Iran and North Korea have both long defied international calls to scrap their nuclear weapons programs. The UN has had economic sanctions against Iran in place since 2006, while the U.S. also pursues its own sanctions, including bans on dealings with Iranian banks.
But Iran recently held seven-party talks with China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S., and plans another round soon. The thaw in relations came after Rouhani, who is seen as a relative moderate, took office in August of this year.
"Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine," the Iranian president said in a speech before the UN General Assembly.
North Korea needs to learn from the changes in Tehran. After coming to power early last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stipulated his country's constitution that the North is a nuclear power and pushed ahead with a third nuclear test. The U.S. now no longer wants talks with North Korea simply for the sake of more talks and is calling on Pyongyang to live up to its earlier pledges to halt nuclear activities.
North Korea and Iran have presented something of a united front when it comes to nuclear weapons production. If Tehran now gives up its nuclear weapons, international pressure will focus all the more intensely on North Korea. When Rouhani arrived back in Tehran, he was greeted by protesters shouting anti-American slogans and pelted with eggs. But even more Iranians praised him, according to media reports.
The Iranian people have suffered from economic isolation and sanctions and are now mostly grateful to their new leader. Kim Jong-un must think hard about what he must do for North Koreans, who are even poorer and more battered by international isolation.