Iran’s Rouhani urges world leaders to ‘seize the opportunity’ his election presents

September 19, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged other world leaders Thursday to take advantage of the opportunity for better relations with Iran that his election represents, writing in The Washington Post that the “age of blood feuds” has passed.

Rouhani, the only relative moderate among candidates in Iran’s presidential election in June, underscored the break from the leadership of predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with an op-ed that appears in Friday’s Post. Rouhani immediately tweeted the article.

Rouhani offered Iran’s services as a go-between in Syria’s civil war and invited talks about Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

“Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue,” Rouhani wrote. “I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.”

The article continues a remarkable overture to the English-speaking world ahead of Rouhani’s first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly. The gathering next week is the Iranian leader’s international coming-out, and hopes are high in both Iran and the United States that it could lead to a diplomatic opening with Washington.

“The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-
dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously,” Rouhani wrote. “Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.”

The United States and Iran have been each other’s firmest enemy since 1979. President Obama took office in 2009 with a pledge to reach out to Iran, but his overtures fell flat.

The two leaders address the world body on Tuesday but will not share a stage. It is not clear whether Obama will be in the U.N. hall to hear Rouhani’s address.

The Iranian leader makes clear that he remains committed to Iran’s right to have what he called a peaceful nuclear energy program, including the right to enrich uranium for fuel. That ability is the sticking point in intermittent international negotiations over a program that the United States, Israel and allies suspect is aimed at building a nuclear bomb.

“To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world,” Rouhani wrote.

“To move beyond impasses, whether in relation to Syria, my country’s nuclear program or its relations with the United States, we need to aim higher,” he wrote. “Rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse, we need to think — and talk — about how to make things better.”

He criticized “unilateralism,” a clear reference to past U.S. foreign policy decisions, and suggested that the American approach has been shortsighted.

“Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences,” Rouhani wrote. “More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc.”

Rouhani’s overall tone was professorial. He did not repeat some of Ahmadinejad’s charges about U.S. and Israeli motives.

“I urge my counterparts to seize the opportunity presented by Iran’s recent election,” he wrote. “I urge them to make the most of the mandate for prudent engagement that my people have given me.”

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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