UNITED NATIONS – Iran showed new urgency Wednesday to revive stalled negotiations with six world powers over its disputed nuclear activities, seeking to ease crippling international sanctions as quickly as possible.
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said “we have nothing to hide” as diplomats prepared to meet today to discuss the way forward on the negotiations that have been on hold since April.
Javad Zarif, Rouhani’s foreign minister, who has been named Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, said he hoped his counterparts from six world powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – “have the same political will as we do to start serious negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement within the shortest span of time.”
Zarif will be a part of the meeting to discuss the next round of negotiations in Geneva, expected in October.
The West suspects that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and has imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran that have slashed its vital oil exports and severely restricted its international bank transfers. Inflation has surged, and the value of the local currency has plunged.
Tehran has repeatedly denied that its nuclear program is for anything other than peaceful purposes.
But since his June election, Rouhani has made clear he is seeking relief from the sanctions and has welcomed a new start in nuclear negotiations in hopes it could ease the economic pressure. He has said he has the full support of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all important matters of state including the nuclear file.
“If there is political will on the other side, which we think there is, we are ready to talk,” Rouhani told editors Wednesday in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. “We believe the nuclear issue will be solved by negotiation.”
Iran watchers say Rouhani may have limited time to reach a settlement – possibly a year or less – before Iranian spirtual leader Ayatollah Khamenei decides negotiations are fruitless. That could explain the urgency in Zarif’s call to reach a deal quickly.
“He is not negotiating for the sake of negotiating and dragging it out,” Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Mideast program at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said of Rouhani. “His reputation, and the country’s reputation, is at stake. This is an issue they are willing to work on and move to take concrete steps to serious negotiations.”
Rouhani in New York has come across as a more moderate face of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran. In particular, he appears to be trying to tone down the caustic rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with regard to Israel – one of the points of friction in relations with the West.
Still his speech Tuesday to the U.N. was peppered with Iran’s traditional digs at America and the West – a reminder that a diplomatic warming will not come quickly or easily.
Rouhani condemned “the Nazi massacre against Jews, Christians and others” in his remarks to editors on Wednesday.
“There is no way to ignore Nazi crimes against Jews,” he said. But he added that “it is important that those victimized not seek compensation by victimizing other groups” – a pointed reference to what he has described as Israel’s occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.
Citing the Quran, or Muslim holy book, Rouhani said that if any innocent person is killed, it is as if all of mankind has been killed.
Ahmadinejad, in contrast, once called the Holocaust a “myth” and later said more research was needed to determine whether it had really happened.