WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani appears to want to open a dialogue with the United States and that he is willing to test whether this is the case.
Obama's comment in an interview with Spanish-language network Telemundo was the latest indication the president would like to jump from the crisis over Syria's chemical weapons to a new search for a diplomatic deal to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.
Last weekend, Obama revealed he and Rouhani had exchanged letters about the U.S.- Iran standoff. Both leaders will be at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, although White House officials say they are no current plans for them to meet.
"There is an opportunity here for diplomacy," Obama told Telemundo. "And I hope the Iranians take advantage of it."
Obama ran for president in 2008 in part by vowing to open a dialogue with Iran.
But there has been no breakthrough and sanctions by Washington and the United Nations to weaken Iran's economy have gradually been increased to try to pressure Tehran to give up a nuclear program that it denies is aimed at building a weapon.
"There are indication that Rouhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States, in a way that we haven't seen in the past. And so we should test it," obama said.
Since the surprise election in June of Rouhani, a centrist cleric, officials from both countries have made increasing hints that they are open to direct talks to seek an end to the decade-long nuclear dispute.
On Tuesday, Obama also called on Congress to tighten gun laws after the latest in a "ritual" of shooting massacres, but lawmakers admitted there is insufficient support for new legislation.
A day after a gunman shot dead 12 people at a US Navy facility a few miles (kilometers) from the White House, Obama said the "overwhelming majority" of Americans agreed with him on the need for common-sense firearms reform.
"I do get concerned that this becomes a ritual that we go through every three, four months, where we have these horrific mass shootings," Obama said in the interview.
"Everybody expresses understandable horror. We all embrace the families... and yet we're not willing to take some basic actions."
Obama introduced a sheaf of measures including a plan for enhanced background checks on gun buyers and a ban on assault-style rifles as America reeled after 20 children and six adults were killed in a school rampage in Newtown, Connecticut last December.
Yet the package foundered in Congress, partly due to a fierce lobbying campaign by pro-gun groups and opposition from some of his fellow Democrats from conservative states, leaving Obama to introduce a smaller set of measures using his executive powers.
"Ultimately, this is something that Congress is going to have to act on," he told Telemundo."I've taken steps that are within my control. The next phase now is for Congress to go ahead and move."