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Hopeful signs of an improvement in the U.S.-Iran relationship

It has certainly been an eventful week for Irans new president Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, whose presidency began less than 2 months ago in August, made his first appearance at the United Nations and garnered a great deal of attention from the United States media, first when he declined to meet President Obama, then when he appeared to condemn the Holocaust in an interview on CNN- although a later clarification of his comments from the Iranian media showed his comments on the topic to be a bit vaguer than originally reported- and finally, when Obama confirmed that the two men spoke on the phone. Nevertheless, Rouhanis visit generally continued to promote a sense of optimism about the new leader and a possibility of improved relations between the United States and Iran. Here are five hopeful signs of such an improvement.

The Phone Call. In a press conference on Friday President Obama announced that earlier in the day he had spoken on the phone w/Rouhani. Although it wasnt an in-person meeting, the call is still very significant- its the first talk between U.S.-Iran leaders since 1979. We have a unique opportunity to make progress with Irans recently recently elected leader, Obama said. He went on to say that he believes the two countries can reach a comprehensive solution on Irans nuclear program.

Significant Diplomatic Meetings. One important in person meeting between the U.S. and Iran did occur this week at the United Nations. Secretary of State John Kerry and Irans foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in New York- the first meeting between high-level officials from the two nations in more than 30 years. Both men described the meeting as constructive.

Pen Pals. In his interview with ABCs George Stephanopoulos, Obama said that he had exchanged letters with the recently elected Rouhani, an exchange confirmed by Iran, and later described by Rouhani in an interview with NBC News as positive and constructive. The exchange marked the first time that Obama reached out directly to the president of Iran, although he sent a letter to the countrys Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei towards the beginning of his first term.

Prisoners Released. In what appeared to be a gesture of good will ahead of his first trip to the United Nations, Iran announced the release of 80 prisoners on Monday. The pardon came on the heels of the release of a dozen political prisoners a week earlier, including prominent human rights laywer Nasrin Sotoudeh.