For the first time since 1979, the leaders of the United States and Iran talked on the phone, President Obama told reporters today. Obama and newly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani talked briefly on Friday afternoon.

President Rouhani broke the news on Twitter just before Obama’s conference began.

While noting the roadblocks ahead, Obama seemed optimistic about negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and said a deal was possible between the two countries. From the New York Times:

“The test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Mr. Obama added: “A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult. And at this point both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome. But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.”

Obama also expressed his respect for Rouhani and the people of Iran, and Rouhani, like any decent diplomat, apologized for the traffic in New York.

As historic as the phone call was, it's not the first time Obama and Rouhani have communicated; prior to their chat, the two were pen pals.