September 27, 2013

Iranian president calls U.S. a 'great' nation in major change

The Associated Press

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference at the Millennium Hotel in midtown Manhattan, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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He expressed hope that with "sufficient will on both sides — and I assure you that on the Iranian side this will is there fully, 100 percent — that within a very short time there will be a settlement on the nuclear file and ... I believe that in the not too distant future, we'll be able to resolve and settle the nuclear issue."

Resolving the nuclear issue will "pave the way for Iran's better relations with the West," including the expansion of economic and cultural ties, he said.

Rouhani said he was encouraged by what he has heard recently from Western officials.

"In speaking with senior European officials and also hearing Mr. Obama ... it seemed that they sounded different compared to the past, and I view that as a positive step to the resettlement of the differences between the Islamic Republic between the Republic of Iran and the West," he said.

He said he did not meet with Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week because "both sides were convinced that the timetable was too short to plan a meeting of two presidents" and "ensure that its conclusion would be solid."

"What matters to us is the result of such a meeting," Rouhani said.

Iran watchers say Rouhani may have limited time — possibly a year or less — to reach a settlement on the nuclear issue before Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei decides negotiations are fruitless.

In an apparent reference to resistance among hard-liners back home, Rouhani noted that "after 35 years of great tensions between Iran and the United States and a very number of issues that persist ... a meeting of the presidents for the first time will naturally come with complications of its own."

He said the first step was the ministerial meeting Thursday, and the next steps have to be taken in stages in "a well-thought-out manner."

The upbeat, if guarded, tone by both sides after Thursday's meeting of Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany was seen as a significant step forward after months of stalled talks. It was capped by an unexpected one-on-one meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who shook hands and at one point sat side-by-side in the group talks.

On other issues, Rouhani condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, welcomed President Bashar Assad's decision to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, and said Iran will actively participate in a new Syrian peace conference if invited.

He said the international community must show "deep sensitivity" to the presence of al-Qaida and other terrorists in Syria, saying "terrorists are like bacteria that travel constantly from one setting to another."

He also said that there's no room in the world today for the extreme practices of the Taliban, who curtailed human rights and barred girls from going to school when they were in power.

"Women are like men and equal with me and must be fully active in the social sphere," Rouhani said.

He expressed hope that the Taliban would re-emerge with new thinking and beliefs to participate in a future framework for peace for Afghanistan.

In Vienna, meanwhile, Iranian and U.N. officials held a "constructive" meeting on resuming a probe of allegations that Tehran has worked on atomic arms, officials said Friday, in talks seen as a test of pledges by Rouhani to reduce nuclear tensions.

The upbeat assessment and an agreement to meet again Oct. 28 was a departure from the deadlock left by previous meetings over nearly two years.

At issue are suspicions outlined in reports from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran worked secretly on trying to develop nuclear weapons — something Tehran denies.

Rouhani has steadfastly maintained that any nuclear agreement must recognize Iran's right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium.


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