UNITED NATIONS: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama would not be swayed by “warmongering pressure groups” at home in dealing with the Iranian nuclear dispute and called for a consistent voice from Washington on the issue.
Rouhani was speaking just hours after Obama cautiously embraced recent overtures from Iran’s new president as the basis for a possible nuclear deal, but a failed effort to arrange a much anticipated handshake between the two leaders underscored entrenched distrust that will be hard to overcome.Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly for the first time, Rouhani said he was prepared to engage in “time-bound and results-oriented” nuclear talks and did not seek to increase tensions with the United States.
“I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama today at the General Assembly,” he said. “Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.”
“To this end, equal footing, mutual respect and the recognized principles of international law should govern the interactions,” he said.
“Of course, we expect to hear a consistent voice from Washington.”Rouhani also warned that the greatest threat to the Middle East was the danger of chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists.
Obama said he was determined to test Rouhani’s recent diplomatic gestures and challenged him to take concrete steps toward resolving Iran’s long-running nuclear dispute with the West.
Rouhani said he was prepared to engage in nuclear negotiations under certain conditions, but also blasted international sanctions against Iran.
“These sanctions are violent, pure and simple,” he said, adding that normal people, not political elites, ended up suffering because of them.
“The negative impact is not nearly limited to the intended victims of sanctions,” Rouhani said.
The Iranian leader reaffirmed his country’s position that its nuclear drive is “exclusively peaceful.”
“Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions,” Rouhani said.
While referring to the conflict in Syria only obliquely, Rouhani said “the greatest threat to the Middle East” was the danger of chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists and terrorist groups.
Obama earlier appealed to the General Assembly to back tough consequences for Syria if it refuses to give up chemical weapons.
The two leaders addressed the U.N. at period of heightened diplomatic efforts to reach a deal between international backers of the Syrian civil war to rid Syria of its chemical stocks following a chemical attack in Damascus on Aug. 21 that U.S. officials say killed 1,400 people.
Obama said an agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to end two and a half years of civil war – a sentiment that was echoed by the leaders of Turkey, Jordan and France, among others.
Obama’s challenge at the United Nations was to persuade world leaders to join in applying pressure on Damascus with a U.N. Security Council resolution that includes tough consequences should Assad not surrender his chemical weapons stockpiles in a verifiable way.
“The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so,” Obama said.
The worry from the U.S. side is that Russia might veto any resolution that contains even an implicit threat of military force against Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov Tuesday in an effort to agree on the wording of a resolution this week.
Speaking earlier in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s opposition to any threat of military action against Assad. He said Moscow would not accept a resolution stipulating automatic punitive measures if Assad fails to comply with the U.S.-Russian deal. But prospects for an agreement between Russia and the West on a draft resolution may be improving, with Western powers giving up on what U.N. diplomats call a “trigger” clause for automatic punitive measures in the event of noncompliance.
French President Francois Hollande told the Assembly that too much time had been wasted trying to end the civil war. “We must ensure that this war ends. It is the deadliest war since the beginning of this century. The solution is a political one, and too much time has been lost,” he said.
Obama said it was not for America to determine who would lead Syria, but he added: “A leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.”
“It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear – an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate,” he said.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, which has been backing Syrian rebels, condemned what he called “horrible massacres” by the Syrian government. “It is unfortunate that the perpetrators of these brutal crimes and massacres that have shocked every human conscience are enjoying impunity from deterrence or accountability,” he told the Assembly.
In his opening speech to the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to member states not to abandon the Syrian people, and said it was not enough to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons while the wider war continued. “Military victory is an illusion. The only answer is a political settlement,” Ban said.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Jordan’s King Abdullah were among world leaders at the General Assembly who called for a more robust international effort to end Syria’s civil war.
“This conflict has evolved into a real threat to regional peace and security,” said Gul. “Any recurrence of the proxy wars of the Cold War era will plunge Syria into further chaos.”
King Abdullah said the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan could rise to 1 million by next year, equivalent to 20 percent of its population, and called for additional international support as the economic burdens weigh on the state.
“My people cannot be asked to shoulder the burden of what is a regional and global challenge,” he said. “More support is urgently needed to send a strong signal that the world community stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those who have borne so much.”
Obama announced the U.S. would provide an additional $339 million in humanitarian aid to ease the Syrian refugee crisis, including $161 million for people inside Syria and the rest for surrounding countries.