UNITED NATIONS: Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani on Thursday called on Israel to admit it has a nuclear bomb ahead of a landmark meeting between Iranian and western foreign ministers.
Rouhani also said he believed a deal could be struck with the international community on his country's nuclear drive within three to six months.
The Iranian president spoke at a UN nuclear disarmament conference just before Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Mohammad Zarif was to hold talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
The meeting was to discuss western allegations that Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb capability. It will also be one of the highest level Iran-US encounters since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Rouhani said Iran's arch-foe Israel should join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to contain the spread of nuclear weapons. Israel has never declared a nuclear bomb but is widely suspected to have several.
Rouhani, speaking as current leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, highlighted the failure of attempts to organize a Middle East nuclear free zone.
"Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay," Rouhani told the meeting.
He said that "all nuclear activities in the region" would then be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
Iran is in dispute with the UN's atomic watchdog, which says it has still not given definitive proof that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Iran denies it seeks a bomb.
"No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons," said Rouhani, who also met with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.
"As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist. The only absolute guarantee is their total elimination," Rouhani said.
Rouhani told the Washington Post he wants a quick accord to end western accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb.
He said he has the full backing of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to broker a deal.
"The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that's short -- and wrap it up," said Rouhani.
"That is a decision of my government -- that short is necessary to settle the nuclear file," he said.
"If it's three months, that would be Iran's choice, if it's six months, that's still good. It's a question of months not years."
Zarif will be the first Iranian minister to sit down with western counterparts to discuss Iran's nuclear program.
While US officials are saying that no bilateral talks are planned between Kerry and Zarif, an unofficial encounter is possible.
"We're going to have a good meeting I'm sure," Kerry said early Thursday as he met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
The Iranian delegation, however, will only join part of the talks being hosted by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Western diplomats say the meeting will give Iran a chance to show there is substance behind Rouhani's statements that he wants to end the nuclear showdown.
Asked what the Iranians needed to do to prove they are serious, Kerry replied: "I'll let you know after they've been serious."
The international powers made a new proposal to Tehran this year, before Rouhani's election, believed to offer some relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy in return for a scaling back of its uranium enrichment.
Western officials say they are still waiting for a detailed response from Iran.
Zarif said on his Twitter account: "We have a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue," if world powers adjust to the "new Iranian approach."
The United States sought a meeting between President Barack Obama and Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN assembly. But Iran said it was too difficult.
Zarif said in remarks published by Iran's official IRNA news agency that a meeting between the presidents "would have been a good beginning."
"A meeting is not an end in itself, nor is it ruled out... President Rouhani has no problem in principle" with meeting Obama, he said.
He called Obama's remarks at the United Nations "more moderate" than in the past.
"If that is the basis of a new political will to solve misunderstandings and ease Iranian concerns, this would be more important than a meeting," he said.
Obama and Rouhani made cautious overtures to each other in their UN speeches on Tuesday.
Rouhani said Iran poses "absolutely no threat to the world," and condemned the international sanctions against his country.
Obama said there was a basis for "a meaningful agreement." But he stressed: "To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."