Calls exchange with Obama ‘positive and constructive’

Days ahead of his likely meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in New York, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said his country would never develop nuclear weapons and that he had sufficient “latitude” to strike a bargain with the West to avert hostilities over Teheran’s development of nuclear technology.

In an interview with NBC news channel, his first with a western media outlet since his election in June, he revealed that he and Mr. Obama had exchanged letters, including a note that he received from the White House congratulating him on his election win.

Repudiating allegations of clandestine nuclear development, Mr. Rouhani said, “We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb. We are not going to do so. We are solely seeking peaceful nuclear technology.”

He also underscored the breadth of negotiating options that he could potentially bring to the table next week when he said, “The problem won’t be from our side.”

He added that he believed that “leaders in all countries could think in their national interest and they should not be under the influence of pressure groups. I hope to witness such an atmosphere in the future”.

Describing the tone of his exchange of letters with Mr. Obama as “positive and constructive”, Mr. Rouhani said the apparent burgeoning of U.S.-Iran rapprochement “... could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future”.

Mr. Rouhani also had warm words for Mr. Obama’s decision to back down from embarking on airstrikes against Syria after Damascus agreed to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile.

To a question on whether he perceived the decision as a weakness, Mr. Rouhani retorted, “We consider war a weakness. Any government or administration that decides to wage a war, we consider a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect to peace.”

Mr. Rouhani, who is said to enjoy the support of Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is viewed as a moderate, compared to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

His visit to participate in the U.N. General Assembly next Tuesday comes as Iran continues to face crippling sanctions levied both by the world body and unilaterally by Washington.

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