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Iran’s Rouhani lashes out at sanctions, hints at nuclear talks

New Iranian President Rouhani told the UN today that US sanctions are a form of ‘belligerence.’ But he also indicated an interest in fresh negotiations.

Declaring that Iran poses “absolutely no threat to the world” and forever rejects nuclear weapons, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used the UN podium today to build on high expectations of new diplomatic engagement.

“Iran seeks to resolve problems, not to create them,” Mr. Rouhani told the UN General Assembly just hours after President Barack Obama from the same rostrum said that the US and Iran could start down “a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interest and respect.”

Before today there was speculation there might be a historic handshake between the two leaders, the first such meeting between an Iranian and US president in 34 years. But it did not take place. A White House official said an informal meeting proved “too complicated” for the Iranians.

The centrist cleric has moved quickly to change Iran’s outlook since his surprise June victory over a slate of conservative rivals, prompting concerns among hardliners of too much change, too fast. Rouhani said the world faces a “critical period of transition” that harbors both dangers and opportunities. He chastised US-led sanctions that have helped cripple Iran’s economy as “violent” acts that cause “belligerence, warmongering and human suffering.”

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The Iranian president said his election typified a trend toward “hope and prudence,” and an end to extremism of all kinds. Rouhani vowed that Iran would “act responsibly” in the region, and that Iran “does not seek to increase tensions with the” US.

Rouhani said that he had “listened carefully” to Obama’s speech and that “commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.”

Now the highest level US-Iran meeting is due to take place on Thursday, when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet his counterparts from the six world powers conducting nuclear negotiations with Iran, including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

They are expected to at least name a date for the resumption of nuclear talks that have been stalled since last spring. Rouhani said nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction “have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine,” and indicated that Iran would do more to break the current nuclear stalemate, but gave few details.

“Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program,” he said. It was “an illusion and extremely unrealistic” to expect Iran’s nuclear knowledge to be removed by “illegitimate pressures” like sanctions, Rouhani said.

Despite articulating a long list of complaints – which included the assassination of a handful of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran, “injustice” against Palestinians, and “hegemonic” rule by powerful nations, Rouhani expressed optimism that “peace is within reach” and said he is “deeply optimistic about the future.”

Rouhani called for the creation of a “World Against Violence and Extremism” (WAVE) group that he said would provide a “coalition for enduring peace.” The move echoed the “Dialogue of Civilizations” championed by Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami 15 years ago.