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Rouhani 'breaks ice' despite missed handshake with Obama

  • 8e16005246b4995a63a0dc057265379384a69b19.jpg

    Iran's President Hassan Rouhani sits with his delegation at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 26, 2013. (AFP)

  • 632b9f57f031b46633a3c2d367bbc99d8257b564.jpg

    President Barack Obama at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 24, 2013. (AFP/File)

Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani has broken the ice by reaching out to Washington, a reformist newspaper said Thursday, while Iranian conservatives too hailed his charm offensive at the UN General Assembly.

Aside from expressing the desire for a speedy resolution of the dispute over Iran's contested nuclear programme, Rouhani while in the US also condemned the Holocaust -- a radical shift from the stance of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The reformist daily Etemad praised Rouhani for using his speech to the General Assembly to "break the ice" with Washington after the countries severed diplomatic relations in 1980, a year after the Islamic revolution in Iran toppled the US-backed shah.

The longstanding gap between the United States and Iran was evident, however, in the failure to orchestrate at least a symbolic handshake between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

Rouhani, in his speech to the Assembly, said Iran poses "absolutely no threat to the world."

If Obama rejects "the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences," the Iranian leader said, insisting that his country's nuclear drive is "exclusively peaceful."

He added that the international community had to accept Iran's nuclear activity, which Western nations say hides an attempt to reach a nuclear bomb capacity.

Rouhani, voted into office in June elections, went further in comments to the Washington Post on Wednesday, saying that he wanted to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue within three months and has full backing to broker a deal from Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

"If it's three months that would be Iran's choice, if it's six months that's still good. It's a question of months not years," Rouhani said.

"If the West recognises Iran's legal rights then there's really no hurdle in creating full transparency that's necessary to settle this case," he said.

His speech to the Assembly has been welcomed in Iran both by moderates and by conservatives.

"Rouhani expressed the will of the nation," said Tehran's popular former mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a moderate.

Iranian armed forces chief of staff General Hassan Firouzabadi, who is close to Khamenei, hailed Rouhani's "firm and revolutionary position."

And Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, who heads the hardline conservative faction of parliament, described the remarks as "positive", stressing that the Iranian president "did not give up the nation's rights."

For Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military aide to Khamenei, Rouhani's speech was "intelligent." He stressed that the president "is trusted by the supreme leader."

Safavi, the former commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, said Obama's speech at the Assembly included "a number of significant changes" and showed that the United States had decided to exercise "flexibility" with Iran.

Conservative judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, another confidant of Khamenei, said "negotiations and relations" between Iran and the United States were "not forbidden."

The United States and Iran will later Thursday have one of their highest-level meetings since the 1979 revolution as Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry join talks on the Iranian nuclear issue.

The White House downplayed Rouhani's no-show at a meeting with Obama, saying the potential of a meet up had proven too politically problematic for the Iranian president.

For his part, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said of the mooted Rouhani-Obama encounter that "the American government expressed its wish, on the eve of the UN General Assembly, for such a meeting" but "there was not enough time to arrange it."

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