Despite Hasan Rouhani's moderate tone, Israel delegation walks out, calling president's first speech "game of deception"

September 25, 2013

Iran tones down anti-Israel rhetoric

By LARA JAKES/The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The Iranian president's first speech to world leaders was absent anti-Israel rhetoric and offered up negotiations with the U.S. and its allies over the disputed nuclear program, showing a more moderate face of the hard-line regime in Tehran.

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Hasan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 24. (AP Photo/Brendan McDermid, Pool

AP

However, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani also took repeated digs at America and the West on Tuesday, much like those that were staples of his predecessor's annual messages to the United Nations General Assembly.

Rouhani's speech signaled Iran's return to a more measured, if still resolute, approach in its foreign policy even as it delivered a reality check that diplomatic warming will not come quickly or easily.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said he did not think Rouhani's speech was conciliatory. But his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "set an incredibly low bar for dignified behavior" and Rouhani delivered a less polarizing, less divisive speech, he said.

"Given how vitriolic that Ahmadinejad's language was, in contrast he certainly appears as a moderate," Sadjadpour said.

Rouhani even went a step further in an interview with CNN airing on Wednesday, saying "the crime the Nazis created toward the Jews is reprehensible and condemnable."

Ahmadinejad, in contrast, once called the Holocaust a "myth" and later said more research was needed to determine whether it had really happened.

And while Rouhani briefly touched on what he described as Palestine's depravation and subjugation, he also ended his speech with a reference not only to the Quran and Bible, but also the Torah.

Israel, however, was not pacified. The Israeli delegation walked out of his speech, and Israeli Minister for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz called his rhetoric a "game of deception."

"Rouhani came here today in order to cheat the world," Steinitz told reporters in a hastily organized news conference at the U.N. after the speech. "And unfortunately many people are willing to be cheated."

But in a text message statement sent to reporters, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's instruction to Israeli delegates to walk out was a "mistake," saying it created the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran's suspect nuclear program.

The day began with breathless speculation that America and Iran would start to bury decades of suspicion and animosity with a handshake and an exchange of pleasantries if they crossed paths inside the U.N. But the euphoria was fading by midday, when Rouhani skipped a lunch where he could have greeted President Barack Obama.

He may have passed on lunch because alcohol was being served — something that could have been shameful for the devout Muslim back home.

Rouhani spoke just hours after Obama also addressed the General Assembly. The American leader spoke of the years of isolation between the two nations since the 1979 Iranian revolution that spurred the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Obama said he needs proof of Iran's goodwill before the U.S. would be willing to shift its tough stance against the country's nuclear program, a reference to harsh sanctions that Washington has imposed.

While Ahmadinejad had insisted that Iran continued to flourish despite the punishing Western sanctions, Rouhani called them "violent" and said they violated human rights. Iran is seeking relief from the sanctions at nuclear negotiations.

Experts said Rouhani's speech may have marked a return to the subtle rapprochement of former Iranian Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and particularly Mohammad Khatami.

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