Saturday 23 September 2017

Iran wants friendship and peace, insists new leader

President Hassan Rouhani declined chance to acknowledge the Holocaust
President Hassan Rouhani declined chance to acknowledge the Holocaust

Raf Sanchez and David Blair

Iran seeks "peace and friendship" in the Middle East, the country's new president said as he sent another conciliatory signal on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly.

President Hassan Rouhani also said he believed in the "ballot box" as the best way of resolving disputes. But he denounced Israel as a "usurper government" and declined to acknowledge that the Holocaust took place.

Mr Rouhani is due to address the General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. US officials have privately predicted a possible "exchange", if not a formal meeting, between Mr Rouhani and President Barack Obama.

In an interview with NBC, Mr Rouhani said: "What we wish for in this region is rule by the will of the people. We believe in the ballot box. We do not seek war with any country. We seek peace and friendship among the nations of the region."

He also promised that Iran would "never" develop nuclear weapons. However, the president called Israel an "occupier, a usurper government that does injustice to the people of the region", accusing it of bringing "instability to the region with its warmongering policies".

The last Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described the Holocaust as a "myth".

Asked whether he agreed, Mr Rouhani replied: "What is important to Iran is that countries, people in the region, grow closer and prevent aggression and injustice."

DISINGENUOUS

Earlier this month, Mr Rouhani wished "all Jews" a happy Rosh Hashanah on Twitter. The message was rejected by the Israeli prime minister, who accused Iran's president of being disingenuous.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the new Iranian foreign minister, has already arrived in New York for the general assembly. He will meet Britain's William Hague, the foreign secretary, on Monday.

The British embassy in Tehran was stormed and looted by a mob in 2011, causing Mr Hague to order the closure of Iran's mission in London. There has been speculation that both countries may agree to reopen their respective embassies.

Mr Rouhani also claimed to have the "full authority" to make decisions to halt any nuclear programme.

But Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defence of the Democracies in Washington, said Iran's big decisions were made by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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