Wednesday 21 February 2018

Rouhani speech hints at moderation

President of Iran Hasan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly (AP/Brendan McDermid)
President of Iran Hasan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly (AP/Brendan McDermid)

The Iranian president's first speech to world leaders was absent of anti-Israel rhetoric and offered negotiations with the West over the disputed nuclear programme, showing a more moderate face of the hard-line regime in Tehran.

However Hasan Rouhani also took repeated digs at his critics, much like those that were staples of his predecessor's annual messages to the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr Rouhani's speech signalled Iran's return to a more measured, if still resolute, approach in its foreign policy even as it delivered a reality check that diplomatic warming will not come quickly or easily.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said he did not think the speech was conciliatory. But his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "set an incredibly low bar for dignified behaviour" and Mr Rouhani delivered a less polarising, less divisive speech, he said. "Given how vitriolic that Ahmadinejad's language was, in contrast he certainly appears as a moderate," Mr Sadjadpour said.

Mr Rouhani even went a step further in an interview with CNN saying "the crime the Nazis created toward the Jews is reprehensible and condemnable."

Mr Ahmadinejad, in contrast, once called the Holocaust a "myth" and later said more research was needed to determine whether it had really happened.

And while Mr Rouhani briefly touched on what he described as Palestine's deprivation and subjugation, he also ended his speech with a reference not only to the Koan and Bible, but also the Torah.

Israel, however, was not pacified. The Israeli delegation walked out of his speech, and Israeli Minister for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz called his rhetoric a "game of deception."

While Mr Ahmadinejad had insisted that Iran continued to flourish despite the punishing Western sanctions, Mr Rouhani called them "violent" and said they violated human rights. Iran is seeking relief from the sanctions at nuclear negotiations.

He said Iran was prepared to immediately engage in nuclear negotiations on condition that the world acknowledge it has the right to enrich uranium. He said all nations - and not just Iran - should publicly commit to building nuclear programmes for peaceful purposes only.

Press Association

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