U.S.-Iran breakthrough, or breakdown?

President Obama made a historic phone call today.

He telephoned Hasan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two men chatted for about 15 minutes, after which President Obama informed the world that he believes a deal to derail any Iranian effort to build a nuclear weapon could be struck.

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Some folks are hailing the phone call as a thawing of a 34-year-old freeze between the two nations. The last phone call between U.S. and Iranian heads of state occurred in 1979 when Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. It all went to hell later that year when Iranian “students” stormed our embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for 444 days.

Rouhani is sounding as though he wants to normalize relations with the United States and rejoin the world community. He’s launched something of a charm offensive of late, talking to a U.S. news network and speaking calmly at the United Nations. I am not totally comfortable plunging ahead with such an effort. I hope Barack Obama retains a degree of skepticism and moves very carefully.

We need to remember that for decades Iran has declared virtual war against the “Great Satan,” meaning the United States. It has declared its intention to wipe Israel off the face of the planet. It has supplied arms and other know-how to international terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida. It arms the Syrian dictator in his war against rebels. It has cozied up to Hezbollah and Hamas, two sworn enemies of Israel. The incendiary statements of Rouhani’s immediate predecessor as president also should not be dismissed and tossed aside.

A single phone call shouldn’t signal a “thaw.” It well might mean that it’s time to turn the temperature up just a bit to begin the thawing of relations.

But just as the late President Ronald Reagan said of Soviet strongman Mikhail Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify,” it is good to seek multiple verifications of any statement that comes from an Iranian president that might signal a new era in relations between two longtime enemies.

Here’s hoping today’s phone call has opened the door to that new era.

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