WASHINGTON— Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani has launched what analysts are calling a charm offensive before next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York. It is raising hopes there might be a fresh opportunity to negotiate with Iran over its controversial nuclear program.
Rouhani, in a flurry of recent comments, has created a strong impression that Iran is ready for serious diplomacy.
In the latest sign the newly elected leader is open to improving relations with the West, Rouhani told NBC News his country will never develop nuclear weapons. He also said he has the clout to make a deal with the West on the disputed nuclear program.
Rouhani said he wants to move quickly. “Regarding Iran’s nuclear issue, we want the swiftest resolution of this issue in the framework of international standards.”
The Iranian leader’s remarks came days before his first appearance as president on the world stage at the U.N.
Iranian expert Patrick Clawson said, “He is charging ahead with this charm offensive and he will probably be very effective at it because he knows how to reach Western audiences.”
In recent weeks Iran has sent greetings for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, via Twitter.
It has transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from conservatives in the military to the Foreign Ministry, released a group of political prisoners and exchanged letters with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Even more significant, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is signaling his country is ready for diplomacy.
“We are not opposed to correct and rational steps on the diplomatic front, be they in the world of diplomacy or whether they fall in the arena of domestic politics. I firmly believe in what was termed many years ago as “heroic flexibility.” This is not a problem - flexibility in some areas is essential and is a good thing,” said Khamenei.
What appears to be driving the new tone from Tehran is the country’s faltering economy following multiple rounds of sanctions. Its currency has lost half of its value, and its oil exports are significantly down.
But its nuclear program continues to enrich uranium. Iran says its plants are for peaceful purposes. The West and Israel believe they are a cover for developing weapons.
White House officials say there are currently no meetings scheduled between the president and his Iranian counterpart. But press secretary Jay Carney said Obama is open to negotiations.
“He would, as president, be willing to have bilateral negotiations with the Iranians provided that the Iranians were serious about addressing the international community’s insistence that they give up their nuclear weapons programs,” said Carney.
Even if Iran comes back to the bargaining table, analysts say negotiations with the West will be hard.
“The question is, can we do a deal which preserves what Iran sees as the important parts of its program, but at the same time keeps Iran far from having a capability to quickly develop nuclear weapons,” said Clawson.
In addition to his speech at the U.N., Rouhani plans several public appearances and television interviews during his stay in the United States.