By Steven R. Hurst ,AP
WASHINGTON — Always scrutinized, Iran now will be under even greater watch as the U.S. looks for signals the Islamic Republic’s new president is serious and powerful enough to pursue detente with Washington and an end to the painful economic penalties imposed over its nuclear program.
A burst of euphoria followed news of Friday’s telephone conversation between President Barack Obama and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, and the first top-level contact between the countries in 34 years led to talk of a historic breakthrough in relations.
But already the exuberance is being tamped down in Washington, where the dark cloud of skepticism over Iranian intentions won’t lift quickly or easily, and in Tehran, where there is no rush to say relations might be restored soon.
Even the most upbeat inside the White House, while saying they have new hope for progress, insist that Rouhani must quickly reinforce his repeated declarations over the past week about being ready for compromise with actions proving his country is not seeking a nuclear weapon.
Iran has a chance to demonstrate its seriousness at the next round of nuclear talks with world powers, set for Oct. 15-16 in Geneva.
Confronting suspicions about his readiness to deal, Rouhani told a news conference before leaving New York on Friday that his government would present a plan in three weeks on how to resolve the impasse.
“I expect this trip will be the first step and the beginning of constructive relations with countries of the world,” said Rouhani, who attended the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial session last week.
Until then, a senior Obama administration official said, Obama’s foreign policy team will watch for signs that Rouhani truly is engaged in a “different calculation” — trying to decide whether defying the U.S. and others on the nuclear issue is worth the pain of sanctions that have damaged Iran’s economy.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House thinking.
The U.S., through the United Nations and unilaterally in some cases, has been the driving force behind the penalties that have isolated Iran from the world economy.
“Now the big question is can the Iranians hold it together to make the very painful political concessions that will be necessary to win sanctions relief,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and career U.S. diplomat in both Democratic and Republican administrations who formerly served as lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program.
Rouhani insists that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the gatekeeper for every decision on matters of state, has given his government the power to negotiate an end to more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian estrangement.