Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani said he listened carefully to President Obama's speech at the United Nations earlier Tuesday and believes the two countries can create a “framework” to resolve their differences over Tehran's nuclear program.
Commanding the attention of world leaders, Rouhani in his own remarks to the United Nations meeting Tuesday afternoon reiterated earlier pledges not to pursue nuclear weapons, saying they and other weapons of mass destruction “have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine” and contradict “our fundamental religious and ethical convictions.”
Tehran, he said, is prepared for immediate nuclear talks that are “time-bound and result oriented … to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties.
“Iran seeks to resolve problems, not to create them,” he said, arguing that the country rejects “violence and extremism.”
Rouhani, who was elected last month on a campaign of “hope and pragmatism,” has grabbed headlines in recent weeks for toning down his rhetoric when it comes to the U.S. and the West. He penned an op-ed last week in the Washington Post that called for a more “constructive” dialogue with the U.S.
But a broad gulf of differences remain between the two countries, which was readily apparent in the address. Rouhani's remarks were full of oblique accusations about past war-mongering on the part of the U.S. and condemned America's reliance on drones to kill enemies on foreign soil.
He also used the speech to denounce U.S.-led sanctions against Tehran over its failure to abide by international weapons treaties, saying the sanctions violate basic human rights, such as access to health care and education, and have caused great “human suffering.”
During his campaign, he promised to try to end the sanctions and help bolster Iran's economy. He has since sought a quick solution with U.S. to eliminate the sanctions.
Rouhani also said the U.S. should deflect “the short-sighted interests of warmongering pressure groups,” which several foreign policy experts interpreted as a thinly veiled reference to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee.
An influential U.S. pro-Israel group, AIPAC aggressively backed Obama's threat to strike Syria before he changed direction and pursued a Russian-brokered diplomatic solution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced deep skepticism about Rouhani's outreach to the West, warning the U.S. and others not to be “fooled” by the shift in tone. He issued the warning in a televised statement shortly before Rouhani's address to the U.N., simultaneously ordering Israel's representatives to the U.N. to walk out of his speech to demonstrate their mistrust.
U.S. officials also expressed deep doubts about Iran's real motivations. Republican Sens. John McCain, Ariz., Lindsey Graham, S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, N.H., issued a joint statement before Rouhani's speech Tuesday.
“We need to approach the current diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open, and we must not allow Iran to use negotiations as a tool of delay and deception,” they said. “A real negotiation does not mean that the diplomats talk while the Iranians enrich.”
Earlier Tuesday, Obama administration officials said that Obama and Rouhani wouldn't be meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly or even shaking hands.
The Iranians declined the opportunity because it proved too complicated back home, the officials said.
During his morning remarks, Obama said he welcomed a new dialogue with Iran but said the United States remains committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
"We will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction," he said.
He noted that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.
"These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement," Obama said, adding that "to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."
Secretary of State John Kerry will join his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, at a Thursday meeting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.