US-Iran logjam ends, not with a bang but with Twitter

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A surprise first phone contact between US President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Friday was not only a dramatic moment in US-Iranian ties but also in the field of digital diplomacy.

Moments before the US leader announced from the White House podium that he had had a chat with his opposite number, the Iranian president sent a tweet that may well live on in history.

“In a phone conversation between #Iranian and #US Presidents just now: @HassanRouhani: ‘Have a Nice Day!’ @BarackObama: ‘Thank you. Khodahafez,’” it read.

Khodadafez is a Persian phrase used on parting, like ‘farewell’ or ‘goodbye,’ but is literally translated as ‘God be your protector’.

Rouhani’s account appeared on Twitter after his election this year and his English-language messages have become a symbol of Tehran’s diplomatic outreach.

There had been some controversy about the account in Iran and it had not been officially confirmed as Rouhani’s but throughout his visit this week to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, Rouhani’s office has used the stream to keep followers up to date with his speeches and media appearances.

Any lingering doubts that the account is indeed run by Rouhani’s office evaporated when it confirmed the phone call before the White House did.

On Friday, as Obama spoke in the more traditional venue of the White House briefing room, Rouhani outlined his side of the exchange online.

“President Rouhani and President BarackObama expressed their mutual political will to rapidly solve the nuclear issue,” he said, in a stream of messages sent as his car headed to the airport to leave the US.