Iran will engage in 'time-bound' talks: Rouhani
United Nations, September 25, 2013
Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani used his debut at the United Nations to pledge Iran's willingness to engage immediately in "time-bound" talks on the nuclear issue but he offered no new concessions and repeated many of Iran's grievances against the US, and Washington's key Middle East ally, Israel.
He spoke hours after US President Barack Obama cautiously embraced earlier overtures from Rouhani as the basis for a possible nuclear deal.
Obama said he was determined to test President Rouhani's recent diplomatic gestures and challenged him to take concrete steps toward resolving Iran's long-running nuclear dispute with the West.
However, the failed efforts to arrange a simple handshake between the two leaders underscored entrenched distrust that will be hard to overcome.
Rouhani told CNN he did not meet Obama at the UN General Assembly because the two sides "didn't have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting."
Rouhani steered clear, however, of the Holocaust-denial rhetoric that was characteristic of his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and later told CNN that the Holocaust had been a "reprehensible crime" against Jews, although the scale of it was a matter for historians.
But he said the environment was changing because Iranians wanted "a new era of relations" with the people of the rest of the world. He then switched to English and said with a smile: "I would like to say to American people, I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans."
A senior US official said the difficulty in arranging the handshake had been on the Iranian side.
"We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself," the official said. "The Iranians got back to us. It was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home."
The failed handshake was a sign of the difficulties the US and Iran face in trying to seize a historic opening after decades of hostility.
Even a brief meeting would have been symbolically important given that it would have been the first face-to-face contact between US and Iranian heads of government since before the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the US-backed shah.
Rouhani's gestures since taking office last month, including agreeing to renew long-stalled talks with world powers on Iran's nuclear program, have raised hopes for a thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran after years of estrangement.
Rouhani hoped that Obama would not be swayed by "warmongering pressure groups" at home in dealing with the Iranian nuclear dispute and called for a consistent voice from Washington on the issue.
Rouhani said he was prepared to engage in "time-bound and results-oriented" nuclear talks and did not seek to increase tensions with the US.
"I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama today at the General Assembly," he said. "Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences."
"To this end, equal footing, mutual respect and the recognised principles of international law should govern the interactions," he said. "Of course, we expect to hear a consistent voice from Washington."
"Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions," he said.
While he avoided any suggestion that Israel had no right to exist, he sharply criticized the treatment of the Palestinians - albeit without naming Israel directly.
"Palestine is under occupation," he said. "The basic rights of the Palestinians are tragically violated, and they are deprived of the right of return and access to their homes, birthplace and homeland."
He also blasted the international sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program, which Western powers and their allies fear is aimed at developing the capability to produce atomic weapons.
"Contrary to the claims of those who pursue and impose them, it is not the states and the political elite that are targeted, but rather, it is the common people who are victimized by these sanctions," Rouhani told the 193-nation assembly.
But even as Obama welcomed signs of a "more moderate course" by Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the world should not be fooled by Rouhani's "soothing words." The Israeli leader said Iran was trying to mask its continued quest for a nuclear bomb, something Tehran denies it is seeking.
After Rouhani's speech, the Israeli leader described the address as a "cynical" attempt to buy time to develop a nuclear- weapons capability.
Outside of the United Nations complex, thousands of anti-Rouhani demonstrators rallied on Tuesday against the new government in Tehran. - Reuters