On Friday afternoon, President Obama gave a brief statement from the White House. He revealed that he'd spoken with the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani — the first such conversation in decades — and commented on the budget fight.
The interaction with Iran came as a surprise, save for a tweet sent from the office of the Iranian president, which was quickly deleted. Obama noted that the last time presidents from the two countries had spoken was 1979.
"While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed," Obama said of negotiations over Iran's nuclear facilities, "I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution." He noted Rouhani's commitment not to develop weapons and that he would press Secretary of State John Kerry to continue negotiations. "A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult," Obama said, according to a transcript from the Washington Post. "But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran."
Later, Rouhani's account tweeted details from the conversation, saying that Obama told Rouhani "I express my respect for you and the [people] of #Iran. I'm convinced that relations between Iran and the U.S. will greatly affect [the] region. If we can make progress on #nuclear file, other issues such as #Syria will certainly be affected." He even apologized for the New York traffic.
Obama's Farsi greeting to Rouhani, "Khodahafez," is basically a casual goodbye. In his remarks, Obama said that he saw "a new opportunity to make progress in Tehran," adding that he conveyed to Rouhani "my unique respect for the Iranian people." He emphasized that the republic's insistence that it would not pursue nuclear weapons opened a new opportunity to work together. The call lasted about 15 minutes, according to a senior administration official. The official added that the Iranians indicated their interest in a phone call to the White House before the president left New York.
During his comments, Obama also addressed the Senate's passage of the House budget resolution. Referring to the Republicans' insistence on trying to defund Obamacare as grandstanding, he demanded that the party pass a resolution funding the government. "So far, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to move forward," he said.
Obama's remarks came at a tense point for those Republican leaders in the House. They spent the past week watching their Senate colleagues try (and fail) to carry forward the Obamacare-defunding measure that the House passed last Friday. With the amended version returning to Speaker John Boehner and his caucus — and with that caucus badly fractured — it seems unlikely that Congress will pass a funding measure the president would find acceptable before the September 30th deadline for doing so. If no funding measure is passed, the government will shut down. "Do not shut down the government; do not shut down the economy," he said. "Focus on the everyday concerns of the American people." He did not suggest that he was in the process of negotiating with the Republican leadership. A spokesperson for Speaker John Boehner later confirmed that the two had not spoken.
Shorter Obama: Let's shut down Iranian nuclear weapons program, not D.C.— Ryan Teague Beckwith (@ryanbeckwith) September 27, 2013
He later addressed the debt ceiling. (For more background, see our recap from earlier today.) "We don't understand the dangers involved" in not raising that debt limit, he said, because no Congress had ever let that happen. "That's why you don't fool with it." He later continued: "Voting for the Treasury to pay America's bills is not a concession to me. That's not doing me a favor."
While Obama speaks, the government will continue to inform vendors and staff of the likely consequences of such a shutdown. On Friday, the Department of Defense offered guidance on how it planned to proceed.