In his first public address on the global stage at the United Nations, new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had a message for President Obama: Iran poses no security threat to the world or the region.
“In fact, in ideals as well as in actual practice, my country has been a harbinger of just peace and comprehensive security,” Rouhani said.
Iran has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon, he added, something he has said repeatedly to U.S. media outlets over the last week in the run up to the U.N. Security Council.
“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 told the world’s leaders. “Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”
He condemned the chemical weapons attack in Syria, saying that the common objective of the international community should be “a quick end to the killing of the innocent while condemning any use of chemical weapons.”
Rouhani made no mention of Iran’s well-documented support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but spoke out against Obama’s call for military strikes, warning, “the legitimate and ineffective threat to use or the actual use of force will only lead to further exacerbation of violence and crisis in the region”
The Iranian president spoke directly about Iran’s historically contentious relationship with the U.S. In the gallery listening to his remarks was the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Rosemary Di Carlo.
Her presence was the first time in years the United States had a high-level delegation official attend the speech of an Iranian president, a sign of the possible thawing of the relationship. Last year, the United States boycotted former President Ahmedinejad’s speech and in 2011 America’s delegation led by then-Ambassador Susan Rice walked out of Ahmedinejad’s speech in protest.
Rouhani said he hoped the United States and Iran could turn a new page in a relationship that hasn’t seen the presidents of the two countries work together in over 30 years.
“Iran seeks constructive engagement with other countries based on mutual respect and common interests and, within the same framework, does not seek to increase tensions with the United States,” he said.
He also spoke directly to President Obama’s speech at the United Nations earlier Tuesday morning, and responded to what the president said.
“Commensurate with the political will of the leadership of the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interests of war-mongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” said Rouhani, adding however that Iran expects to hear a “consistent voice” from Washington.
Rouhani also called the continued sanctions against Iran “violent” and said that they have the unintended consequence of hurting the economy and livelihood of everyday citizens.
Though Obama and Rouhani did not meet today as was speculated, on Thursday Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif as part of a scheduled meeting with the P5+1. a group made up of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.
A senior State Department Official said that while the administration doesn’t expect any major breakthroughs in Thursday’s meeting, President Obama and Secretary Kerry believe it’s worth testing the potential for negotiations with new leadership in Iran.
“But actions speak louder than words,” said the official. “The steps taken by the Iranians in the weeks ahead to show they are serious will determine how successful these efforts will be and how long they will take.” said the official.
–With Jon Garcia