Middle East

Iran, U.S. Can Manage Differences, Rouhani Tells U.N.

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Iran's new president has made his first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly. Hassan Rouhani has been signaling that his government wants a thaw in relations with the West, and may be ready to strike a deal on Iran's suspect nuclear program. There are, however, deep suspicions on both sides.


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. President Obama never did meet Iran's president Hasan Rouhani at the United Nations, as many expected. But Iran's new president gave a speech calling for results-oriented talks to clear up concern about what he called Iran's peaceful nuclear program. NPR's Michele Kelemen was there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Rouhani skipped a U.N. luncheon where he might have encountered President Obama, but he did tell the U.N. General Assembly that he listened carefully to the U.S. presentation. And speaking through an interpreter, he says he thinks the U.S. and Iran can find ways to manage their differences if Obama doesn't follow, as Rouhani puts it, the short-sighted interests of warmongering pressure groups.


PRESIDENT HASAN ROUHANI: (Through translator) In recent years, a dominant voice has been repeatedly heard: The military option is on the table. Against the backdrop of this illegal and ineffective contention, let me say loud and clear that peace is within reach.

KELEMEN: Rouhani says he's ready for talks, but Iran won't give up its right to a peaceful nuclear program.


ROUHANI: (Through translator) 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. Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program.

KELEMEN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Iranian leader isn't offering anything concrete, and is just talking to buy time to continue Iran's nuclear development. But President Obama says this diplomatic opening must be tested. And he made his own overtures to Rouhani, recognizing there's distrust on both sides.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War.

KELEMEN: He says the U.S. and Iran won't be able to get over this difficult history quickly, but resolving the nuclear issue could be a major step to more normal ties.


OBAMA: We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from other major powers are to sit down with Iran's foreign minister Thursday to talk about the diplomatic path ahead. French President Francois Hollande was the first Western leader to meet with Iran's president, and he told reporters, through an interpreter, that Rouhani's words must be turned into deeds.


PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through translator) I accepted to dialogue with President Rouhani, because he himself took a stance of opening, and he made a number of statements that could be useful development in the region.

KELEMEN: Hollande says he also wanted to talk to Rouhani about Iran's support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. A top U.N. official, Jeffrey Feltman, says if diplomats can ever pull off a peace conference on Syria, Iran needs to be there.

JEFFREY FELTMAN: I can't envision us coming up with a political solution for Syria that doesn't somehow involve the Iranians. There is no government that has more influence on the thinking in Damascus than Tehran.

KELEMEN: President Obama says it's time for Iran and Syria's other backer, Russia, to realize that insisting on Bashar al-Assad's rule will lead to the outcome they both fear: an increasing violent space for extremists to operate. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.

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