Echo of the old in new Iran leader’s U.N. speech


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons and that it seeks a constructive relationship with the United States. (Brendan McDermid/AP)
September 24, 2013

Iran will not develop nuclear weapons and seeks a constructive relationship with the United States, new President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday in a United Nations address that also included some familiar Iranian criticism of the United States and Israel.

Rouhani, making his debut at the world body, said he had “listened carefully” to President Obama’s address from the same podium earlier in the day. He said Iran hopes that U.S. leaders can summon the political will to “refrain from following the shortsighted interests of war-mongering pressure groups.”

“We can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” Rouhani said, with Iran and the United States on “equal footing.”

The Iranian leader, the only relative moderate among the field in June elections, presented a friendlier face ahead of the U.N. session, including in a Washington Post op-ed last week in which he also pledged not to seek nuclear weapons.

“The recent election in Iran represents a clear living example of the wise choice of hope, rationality and moderation by the great people of Iran,” he said through an interpreter Tuesday. “The realization of democracy, consistent with religion, and the peaceful transfer of executive power manifested that Iran is the anchor of stability in an otherwise ocean of regional instabilities.”

Rouhani has made a deliberate effort to show how he differs from predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose annual U.N. addresses often featured denunciations of the United States and Israel.

Rouhani’s own address contained some milder criticism, however. He singled out the U.S. policy of using armed drones in foreign countries and spoke of “crimes” against the Palestinians.

Taken with Rouhani’s decision not to meet Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting Tuesday, the address appeared to show the limits of the new Iranian charm offensive. U.S. officials said Iranian officials declined to arrange a handshake or other informal meeting between the two leaders because doing so would be “too complicated” for Rouhani at home.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry will meet Thursday with Iran’s new foreign minister, also considered a moderate, in a rare high-level encounter between the two governments. That meeting will be part of wider international talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Rouhani said Tuesday that his country is prepared to talk. “We expect to hear a consistent voice from Washington,” he said, but also criticized a U.S. threat to use military force if there is no other way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

That threat is an “ineffective contention,” Rouhani said. “Peace is within reach.”

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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