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September 25, 2013

UN General Assembly Debate Enters Second Day

by VOA News

World leaders are speaking for the second day at the United Nations General Assembly opening session in New York.

Tuesday's debate was highlighted by talk about Iran, Syria and weapons of mass destruction.

During the opening session, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani marked his first appearance on the world stage by saying he is open to transparent and immediate dialogue with the United States and the West about Iran's nuclear program. He repeated Iran's long-held position it has a right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.

Mr. Rouhani said Iran's economy and people have been hurt by international sanctions intended to force the country to open its nuclear program to inspection.

Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama told the General Assembly he is pursuing a diplomatic agreement on Iran's nuclear program.  

Among the many speakers calling for a resolution for international supervision and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons was U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.  He called for world leaders to stop "fueling the bloodshed."

Later, French President Francois Hollande met Mr. Rouhani on the sidelines of the General Assembly.  

Mr. Hollande said he was open to dialogue with the Iranian leader but would not tolerate nuclear proliferation. He stressed Mr. Rouhani's words must be backed by "concrete gestures" that show Iran renounces its military nuclear program.

An anticipated encounter between Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama did not take place. A U.S. official said the Iranians were not ready to have an encounter at the presidential level just now, saying a meeting would prove too complicated for the Iranian delegation.

U.S. and Iranian government heads have not met since before the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.

Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. and some of its allies disagree, and have helped impose several rounds of sanctions that have battered Iran's economy.