Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston.
Talks between Iran and the West made headlines this year. After years of stalemate, western powers, led by the United States, were able to broker an interim deal on Iran's nuclear program. And there was the historic phone call between Iran's President Hasan Rouhani and Barack Obama.
Barack Obama: The very fact that this was the first communication between an American and Iranian president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.
Werman: On Iran's domestic side, there was a presidential election, and Iranians overwhelmingly chose a reform-minded candidate. We turn to The World's Shirin Jaafari for a look back at Iran in 2013, and a look at 2014 holds in store.
Shirin Jaafari: What made 2013 - the election - important, was the 2009 election. So at that time, if you might remember, was when Iranians went to the poll, voted, but they thought their votes were not counted, and so they came out to protest in the streets. And it was a contested election, so a lot of people got in jail and some were arrested, and you know, in 2009, that was how the election turned out. So now this was the first time after those events that people were supposed to go to the polls. So there was a lot of questions. Would people actually turn out to vote, or would there be violence again? And so people did come out, they voted. And a moderate voice, who was Hasan Rouhani, he was a cleric, he got elected and came into being the president.
Werman: So Rouhani is victorious, he succeeds former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A few months later, the UN General Assembly. Remind us of that heady moment when eyes kind of turned away from the meeting at the UN and started focusing on Rouhani and Obama.
Jaafari: That was a really important moment, I think. That was a historic moment. So Rouhani, it was his first trip to the UN as President. He came to New York for a five day trip and he attended the General Assembly, he gave his talk, and then there were talks that possibly there could be a meeting between Obama and Rouhani, on the side lines and by chance. And so there was a lot of talk about that. And that didn't happen. Rouhani was supposed to go back to Tehran, he was on his way to the airport, and then all of a sudden we hear about this news about the phone call.
Werman: Huge news.
Jaafari: Huge news. It was huge. I think, I mean, as an Iranian I never thought that would happen. I never thought that, at least not in my lifetime, the US and Iran would be directly talking to each other. Now remember, Iran and the US have not been talking directly for 34 years. So it was a 15 minute conversation. Apparently Obama apologized for the awful New York traffic and said goodbye in Farsi to Rouhani.
Jaafari: So this was a really important moment for a thaw between Iran and the US relations.
Werman: And this set up, I would imagine, the interim deal between Iran and the Western countries involved in nuclear talks on Iran's nuclear program. Did you expect that?
Jaafari: I did not at all. You know, from the moment that Rouhani came into office, he started to talk about moderation. We saw that something different was happening this time. He actually did want to engage with the West, and he actually did reach out. And so from that moment on, talks started to take place between Iran and the West, the Western countries who are involved in the nuclear talks, and we did see a result come out of those talks. It was surprising. Now, this is not a final deal. There's a lot to be done. In fact, the West and Iran, they started talks today. So there's a lot to be done, but the fact that this interim was reached, I think it's a really important moment.
Werman: There have been a number of sanctions lifted on Iran. Do you think the year ahead, 2014, is going to be as seemingly easy to corral the parties and complete the process on these talks?
Jaafari: So those sanctions, they are gonna take time to be lifted, and those are unfreezing of some of the assets. And there are some easing of sanctions. Sanctions are still gonna be in place and it's gonna take time to ease those. And I think 2014 is going to be a very critical moment for Hasan Rouhani. He has made so many promises. And yes, he has had some success on the international level. He has been, he's a great diplomat, he's had a lot of success in engaging with the West. But we have to remember there's a lot to be done at home. He had a lot of issues to deal with inside Iran. We have to think about the human rights issues, we have to think about the opposition figures who are under house arrest. It's been three years they're under house arrest. They are all--they're not in good health. So he has to address those kinds of issues that he's been avoiding.
Werman: The World's Shirin Jaafari. Thanks very much for that look back on Iran and the look ahead. Appreciate it.
Jaafari: Thank you, Marco.