UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iran's new president held open the possibility of negotiations on his country's disputed nuclear program and talks with the United States in his first speech on the world stage Tuesday. But he was also highly critical of how the U.S. projects its power.
Hassan Rouhani, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, welcomed Syria's acceptance of the international treaty to ban chemical weapons and said "access by extremist terrorist groups to such weapons is the greatest danger to the region." Iran is one of the closest allies of the Syrian regime, which frequently blames terrorist groups for fomenting the civil war there.
Rouhani also warned that the threat or use of force in Syria "will only lead to further exacerbation of violence and crisis in the region."
He called his election over the summer a "wise choice of hope, rationality and moderation," and said every issue can be resolved through moderation, mutual respect and rejection of violence and extremism.
Rouhani is considered a relative moderate amid the hard-line clerics who control Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei controls all important matters of state, including the nuclear program.
The United States and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. But Iran insists its nuclear program is purely peaceful — a point Rouhani reiterated by saying: "This has been, and will always be, the objective of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers have been stalled for months but Iran agreed to a new meeting this Thursday on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
"Nuclear weapons 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. "Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program."
Rouhani reiterated Iran's right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enriching uranium — a process that can be used to produce fuel for both weapons or energy.
On the conditions that world powers recognize that right and that all nations' nuclear programs are for peace purposes only, he said Iran "is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency."
Rouhani said he listened to President Barack Obama's speech to the General Assembly earlier Tuesday and is also open to talks with the United States "to manage differences."
"To this end, equal footing, mutual respect, and the recognized principles of international law should govern the interactions," he said.
He proposed that the U.N. consider a new project, "The World Against Violence and Extremism" called WAVE and urged all nations and organizations to join and guide the world in this direction.