In his first major address to a global audience since his June election, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani put out a two pronged message in New York this week – first, that Iran's nuclear programme “has been, and will always be,” exclusively for peaceful purposes; and second, that Teheran would retain the right to uranium enrichment and reject “illegitimate pressures” to impede that right.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly the same day as U.S. President Barack Obama, Mr. Rouhani appeared to reciprocate the cautious optimism that Mr. Obama voiced when he said that he was “encouraged” by the commitment of Mr. Rouhani’s government to a “more moderate course.”
Mr. Rouhani said that nuclear weapon and weapons of mass destruction had no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine, and “contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions.”
Possibly alluding to crippling sanctions regimes imposed separately by the U.N. and the U.S., he added that Iran’s national interests made it imperative that Teheran removed all “reasonable concerns” about Iran's peaceful nuclear programme.
However he cautioned that respect for Iran’s right to implementing enrichment activities domestically and its enjoyment of related nuclear rights would be “the only path towards achieving the first objective” of nuclear negotiations.
Mr. Rouhani noted that in Iran, nuclear technology including enrichment had “already reached industrial scale,” and it was thus extremely unrealistic to presume that the country’s peaceful nuclear programme could be ensured by via illegitimate pressures.
While speculation abounded among delegates and media about whether a symbolic public handshake between Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama would occur, neither that nor an informal meeting between Iran and the U.S. on the margin of the UNGA appeared to be on the cards.
However French President Francois Hollande did meet Mr. Rouhani on Tuesday, the first Western leader to do so. Prior to the meeting, however, Mr. Hollande indicated that Paris expected “concrete gestures” by Iran to show it will give up a military nuclear programme.
Mr. Hollande nevertheless acknowledged that Iran “clearly has the right to pursue its civilian programme