TEHRAN (AFP) – President Hassan Rowhani Monday urged the West to interact with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, denouncing sanctions as "unacceptable" as he left for New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
Heading a high-ranking delegation, Rowhani will address the UN body on Tuesday in a speech that will be closely watched by the West looking for signs that his talk of change and pledges to engage the world constructively are for real.
"The path of sanctions is an unacceptable and unrealistic path. Those who have opted for (sanctions) will not achieve their objectives," Rowhani told reporters at the airport, the ISNA news agency reported.
The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for failing to heed six successive ultimatums to suspend uranium enrichment, which Western governments suspect conceals a covert drive for a weapons capability.
"Instead of this path, they should choose one that is based on interaction, negotiation and understanding," said the mid-ranking Shiite cleric, a reputed moderate by Iran's political standards.
Rowhani added that he would use the chance to correct the image of Iran that was portrayed to the world under his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery speeches at the UN assembly included Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
"There were hands at work in recent years that unfortunately introduced Iran's image and its culture-loving, peaceful civilisation ... differently," he said, in a veiled criticism of Ahmadinejad.
As part of efforts to burnish the Islamic republic's image, a Jewish member of parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedq, is on Rowhani's delegation, Iranian media reported.
Rowhani took office after a surprise June election victory following a campaign in which he pledged to repair strained relations with the international community, in particular with the West, and to shore up Iran's ailing economy hard hit by sanctions.
Since then, he has made several diplomatic overtures with speculation rife he could also meet US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
But Washington warned on Friday that while welcome, the overtures were not enough for it to consider loosening crippling sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors that Rowhani has said he wants eased.
Rowhani is scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN meet -- which would mark the first high-ranking meeting between Iran's leadership and a Western head of state in almost a decade -- among a number of other high profile meetings, according to Iranian media.
In New York, he will team up with his top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is due to meet the foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States on Iran's nuclear programme on Thursday, according to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
In the meeting, Zarif will reportedly seek a new negotiating framework, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"The nuclear negotiations cannot continue with the current framework and content," the unnamed source close to Iran's negotiating team was quoted as saying.
"New conceptual frameworks and operational approaches must be designed with the goal of creating a win-win situation," the source added without elaborating.
A Western diplomat in Tehran appeared to confirm the report, telling AFP: "(Zarif) may be going into more details on different aspects of the discussions as well as on a date" for fresh nuclear talks -- which have been put on hold since April in the run-up to the presidential election.
Despite promising increased transparency on Iran's nuclear drive, Rowhani has not offered much detail on how he wants to resolve the decade-long showdown over the programme.
One change he has implemented was tasking the foreign ministry with overseeing future nuclear talks, replacing the Islamic republic's top security body.
Rowhani has demanded the West recognise Iran's rights to uranium enrichment, while also warning that time for resolving the standoff will not be unlimited -- in an allusion to hardline voices within the regime who are traditionally against compromise with the West.