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

(Continued from page 1)

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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


Standoffs with the West over nuclear activities and Syria now stand as key tests of whether relations will improve.

World powers for years have tried to curb Tehran's nuclear program to prevent Iran from being able to build a bomb. But Iran insists its program is peaceful, and has long demanded the world recognize its right under international treaties to enrich uranium — a process that can be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons or nuclear energy.

Rouhani said Iran is prepared to immediately engage in nuclear negotiations on condition that the world acknowledge it has the right to enrich uranium. He said all nations — and not just Iran — should publicly commit to building nuclear programs for peaceful purposes only.

Israel's Steinitz said in reality, little has changed in Iran since Rouhani was elected in June.

"Not even one centrifuge was stopped," he said, referring to Iran's enrichment of uranium.

On Syria, Rouhani repeated Iran's condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. But he said the greatest danger to the Mideast would be for chemical weapons to fall into the hands of extremists and terror groups, and said any negotiated disarmament plan in Syria would have to prevent that.

The Syrian regime frequently refers to the opposition as terrorists.

The U.S., France and Britain accuse Assad's regime of launching an Aug. 21 chemical attack on the Damascus suburb that killed more than 1,000 people.

Iran is considered Syria's main benefactor, and Tehran has been a lifeline for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in its 2½ year sectarian civil war with opposition rebels.

Western officials are hoping Iran will play a role in ending the Syrian war. And Rouhani appeared willing to sanction Iran's participation in negotiations for a peace settlement in Syria, French officials said. That could put more pressure on Assad.

Obama said it was unrealistic to expect that the U.S. and Iran would see eye-to-eye any time soon or easily bridge the chasms between them.

"I don't believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicions run too deep," he said. "But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road toward a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect."

Neither Obama nor Rouhani attended each other's speech. But Rouhani said he had followed Obama's words and was confident the two nations can manage their differences.

"There is no issue or dossier that cannot be resolved through reliance on hope and prudent moderation, mutual respect, and rejection of violence and extremism," Rouhani said.

In Iran, most newspapers gave ringing approval to Rouhani's speech, and some lavished rare praise on Obama for acknowledging the religious edict, or fatwa, against nuclear weapons by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni.

But some hard-line media claimed that Obama's more diplomatic-minded approach was the result of Iran's resistance to sanctions.

"Historic proposal" was the headline in Etemad daily, a reference to Rouhani's proposal to "manage differences with the U.S." It also said there was a "change in Obama's tone" toward Iran in response to Rouhani's outreach.

But the hard-line daily Jomhuri-e-Eslami highlighted Obama's pledge that the U.S. is not after "regime change" in Iran.

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