JUST hours before a highly anticipated meeting between Western powers and Iran on its uranium enrichment programme, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (right) declared no country had the right to a nuclear arsenal and demanded that Israel join the 1979 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons," Mr Rouhani told a disarmament meeting on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Later, his foreign minister, Jivad Zarif, was to meet with foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US to discuss reviving stalled talks on the enrichment efforts which the West says are aimed at developing an atomic bomb.
Since arriving in New York, Mr Rouhani has been engaged in a vigorous campaign to present a newly moderate face of Iran and insists he is serious about rejecting nuclear weapons.
There was guarded optimism among Western diplomats that his words would translate into a commitment by Mr Zarif to return to the table quickly.
At the meeting – which was to see the first direct contact between an Iranian foreign minister and a US Secretary of State in 36 years – he was certain to be reminded that only full compliance with UN resolutions would earn Iran relief from harsh economic sanctions.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, told reporters he was expecting a "good meeting", but added that he wouldn't say what he would be asking of Mr Zarif until afterwards.
Certainly, any suggestion that Israel joining the NPT might be a condition of co-operation would complicate the process. Israel has warned the US and others not to take Mr Rouhani at face value, adding that he is subordinate to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini.
Noting Israel's failure to sign the treaty, Mr Rouhani said "almost four decades of... efforts to establish a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed".
He said all nations should be subject to unfettered inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, something the West has long been demanding of Tehran. (© Independent News Service)