News / Middle East

Rouhani Says Iran Willing to Forswear Nuclear Arms

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, in Tehran, Aug. 4, 2013.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, in Tehran, Aug. 4, 2013.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed on Wednesday that his government would never develop nuclear weapons, his strongest signal yet that he may be seeking a diplomatic thaw with the West after decades of acrimony.

In an interview with NBC News days before he travels to New York for a U.N. appearance, the new Iranian president also insisted he had "complete authority" to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States and other Western powers.

"We have time and again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever," Rouhani said when asked whether he would forswear nuclear arms.

Rouhani's conciliatory comments appeared to be another sign of his willingness to work toward a diplomatic solution in Iran's bitter nuclear standoff with the West. Washington and its allies are intrigued but still wary, making clear they hope to see tangible steps to back up his words.

Speaking to the U.S. network at his presidential compound in Tehran, Rouhani said the tone of a letter he had received from President Barack Obama, part of a recent exchange of messages between the leaders, was "positive and constructive."

"It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future," Rouhani said six days before he is due to address the U.N. General Assembly, a speech that will be watched closely for fresh diplomatic overtures.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said that nuclear weapons development would be inconsistent with Islamic values. But a willingness by a newly elected president to rule out nuclear arms could help provide a new opening in long-stalled international nuclear talks.

Questions remain about how much bargaining room Khamenei, a staunch promoter of Iran's nuclear program, will give Rouhani's government, whether in secret talks with Washington or in multilateral discussions with major powers.

Comments on Tuesday by Khamenei about the need for "flexibility" suggest a new willingness at the highest level to explore a compromise solution to Tehran's dispute with the West.

'Complete authority'

"This government enters with full power and has complete authority," Rouhani said, according to an NBC translation. "I have given the nuclear negotiations portfolio to foreign ministry. The problem won't be from our side. We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem."

The White House responded cautiously.

"The world has heard a lot from President Rouhani's administration about its desire to improve the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran's relations with the international community, and President Obama believes we should test that assertion," White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. "We hope that this new Iranian government will engage substantively in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program."

The United States and its allies suspect Iran is seeking bomb-making capability despite Tehran's insistence that its  program has only peaceful aims. Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear weapons power, has repeatedly called for a credible military threat to halt Iran's nuclear advance.

Since Rouhani was elected president in June, the centrist cleric has called for "constructive interaction" with the world, a dramatic shift in tone from the strident anti-Western rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama said in a television interview on Tuesday that he was prepared to test Rouhani's willingness to open a nuclear dialogue, but he did not back away from previous U.S. demands.
Rouhani said Obama wrote to him first, congratulating him on his election and raising "some issues of interest," and the Iranian president responded.

Obama told Rouhani in their exchange that the United States was "ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Carney reiterated that Obama had no plans to meet Rouhani at the United Nations. But there is always the possibility the two might see each other in the U.N. corridors.

In the television interview, Rouhani did not rule out meeting Obama at the United Nations, NBC said.

In a possible gesture to ease Western concerns, Iranian authorities on Wednesday released a prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was arrested in 2010 and convicted of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security.   Rouhani had pledged during his election campaign to ease some political and social restrictions at home.
The U.S. State Department welcomed Sotoudeh's release and called on Iran to release "all prisoners of conscience."

The United States and Iran cut diplomatic relations in 1980, after students and Islamist militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage.

Obama ran for president in 2008 vowing to engage with Iran.

 But Tehran continued its nuclear development and tough sanctions imposed by Washington and the United Nations have taken a severe toll on Iran's economy.

Also in the NBC interview, Rouhani demurred when asked whether Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, could assure the world that Damascus would comply with a U.S.-Russia agreement to give up its chemical weapons.

"We are not the government of Syria," Rouhani said. "We are one of the countries of this region which is asking peace and stability and the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction in the entire region."

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs