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.
    Reuters
    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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    Party's presumptive presidential nominee, her vice presidential pick deliver optimistic message in Florida as they campaign for first time together

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora