UNITED NATIONS — In his international debut at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Hassan Rouhani said Iran is a peaceful country that poses no threat to the region or the world.
Of his country’s suspect nuclear program, he said Iran is ready to immediately hold transparent, “time-bound and results-oriented talks” to build mutual confidence.
“Our national interests make it imperative we remove any and all reasonable concerns about our peaceful nuclear program,” said Rouhani through an interpreter.
The Shi'ite cleric, who was elected in June, said that nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine and contradict the nation’s religious convictions.
Rouhani also commented on international sanctions imposed on Iran for its intransigence in complying with demands that it answer outstanding questions about its nuclear program. The Iranian leader said sanctions only hurt the common man, not the state.
On Iran’s embattled ally of Syria, Rouhani said that any use of chemical weapons is to be condemned. He criticized states for fueling the conflict by sending arms and fighters.
“We emphasized that there was no military solution to the Syrian crisis,” said Rouhani.
Rouhani made no mention of the Iranian-funded Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian forces for several months.
Quoting from the Jewish holy book the Torah, Rouhani’s tone was a significant change from the inflammatory rhetoric of hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly taunted Israel and the United States.
While Israel’s chair was empty during the Iranian speech, no diplomats from other countries appeared to walk out, as they had in previous years.
Ahead of his U.N. debut, Rouhani released about a dozen political prisoners and gave several media interviews signaling his interest in improving relations with the West.
However, an anticipated encounter between Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama did not take place on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Tuesday. A U.S. official said the Iranians were not ready to have an encounter at the presidential level just now.
President Rouhani did hold a formal one-on-one meeting with French President Francois Hollande. Before their talks, the French leader welcomed Rouhani’s recent statements in his remarks to the General Assembly, but said the Iranian president must translate the words into actions, specifically on the nuclear issue.
Iran says its nuclear pursuits are for peaceful purposes, but the West believes Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
The foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council members, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will meet with their Iranian counterpart later this week to discuss the issue.