September 26, 2013

World powers set to test Iran on nuclear dispute

Today's meeting at the U.N. will mark the highest-level, direct contact between the United States and Iran in six years.

By Lara Jakes and Matthew Lee / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif is urging step-by-step compromises between his country and world powers to advance negotiations over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

AP

Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as fuel for nuclear energy but at higher levels of enrichment, it could be used to build a nuclear weapon.

Rouhani also insisted in his speech that any deal be contingent on all other nations declaring their nuclear programs too are solely for peaceful purposes — alluding to the U.S. and Israel.

Iran watchers say Rouhani may have limited time to reach a settlement — possibly a year or less — before Khamenei decides negotiations are fruitless. That may explain Zarif's call to reach a deal in the short time span.

"He is not negotiating for the sake of negotiating and dragging it out," Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Mideast program at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, said of Rouhani. "His reputation, and the country's reputation, is at stake. This is an issue they are willing to work on, and move to take concrete steps to serious negotiations."

Rouhani in New York has come across as a more moderate face of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran. In particular, he appears to be trying to tone down the caustic rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with regard to Israel — one of the points of friction in relations with the West.

Still his speech to the U.N. was peppered with Iran's traditional digs at America and the West — a reminder that a diplomatic warming will not come quickly or easily.

Rouhani condemned "the Nazi massacre against Jews, Christians and others" in his remarks to editors on Wednesday.

"There is no way to ignore Nazi crimes against Jews," he said. But he added "it is important that those victimized not seek compensation by victimizing other groups" — a pointed reference to what he has described as Israel's occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.

Citing the Quran, or Muslim holy book, Rouhani said that if any innocent person is killed, it is as if all of mankind has been killed."

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

Israel's U.N. delegation walked out of Rouhani's speech Tuesday in protest. But in a text message statement sent to reporters on Wednesday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's instruction to Israeli delegates to walk out was a "mistake." He said it created the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Rouhani said Iran must be careful in starting a new relationship with the U.S. after three decades of frozen ties, adding that his first goal is to reduce the distrust. He noted that there are radical voices in America and radical voices in Iran who would not like to see that happen, but said that the voices of moderation need to be strengthened and supported.

"The more two countries are apart, the more suspicions, fears and miscalculations creep in," he said in remarks that were initially supposed to be off the record. However, in response to requests from journalists, Rouhani agreed some of his remarks could be quoted.

He said he has no problem shaking hands with President Barack Obama. But he said he thought the first meeting between leaders of their two countries in more than three decades needed to be handled very carefully. There had been heated speculation that the two might meet at the U.N. on Tuesday and even exchange handshakes and pleasantries. But that did not happen.

The White House said Obama remains open to the possibility of an informal encounter with Rouhani at a future date.

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