After years of a sometimes tense and frosty stand-off, Iran and the United States started talking in 2013. And while the talks, centered on Iran's controversial nuclear program, have not exactly been smooth, many Iranians appear to be warming to the idea of better ties with the U.S.
It was an announcement that gave rise to hopes that had been dormant for decades: "Just now I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran," said U.S. President Barack Obama, announcing the late September call that elicited a cautious optimism that was echoed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who tweeted about the "historic phone conversation."
The call came at the end of Rouhani's first trip to the United Nations, when, despite speculation about a "chance" encounter and a possible handshake, the two leaders failed to meet.
For three decades, with memories of the Iranian Revolution and Iran hostage crisis etched in the minds of many, such an encounter was unthinkable.
But change seemed to start taking hold in June when the support of Iran's leading reformists helped propel Rouhani into the presidency, sparking celebrations, with the president-elect quickly signaling a new tone from Tehran.
"There exists an old wound [between the two countries] and it is necessary for it to close in order for it to heal," Rouhani said.
But many in the U.S. remained wary, convinced that, despite Iran's denials, Tehran is set on acquiring nuclear weapons.
“You can’t sit around and try to speculate are they telling us the truth, are they going to try to do something internationally and all that?" said Senate Armed Service Committee's James Inhofe. "No. They want to kill us.”
"We know that deception is part of [Tehran's] DNA," U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman told members of Congress, sparking outrage in Iran.
Still, negotiations moved forward, leading to an interim deal between Iran and the West.
But, according to Middle East Analyst Jim Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, a politically conservative Washington-based think tank, getting beyond an interim deal — and fostering better ties between Iran and the U.S. — is anything but certain.
“These temporary negotiations help both sides in the short run, but in the long run I’m very pessimistic that a sustainable, acceptable deal can be negotiated with the regime, unless it sees that [a deal] as a necessary step to ensure its very survival," he said.
But for those too young to remember the revolution and the hostage crisis, there is still hope.
Ali, who asked we hide his identity to protect friends and family in Iran, grew up in Tehran and now studies in the U.S.
“We want to see things normalized so we don’t feel a tension within ourselves, whether things are going to be safe,” he said.
A normalization he barely could have dreamed of a year ago that, as remote as it may prove to be, now has a chance.