President Hassan Rouhani told the UN General Assembly on Monday that Iran seeks to rebuild relations with the international community and especially its neighbors, but left little doubt that he did not include Israel among his regime’s potential peace partners.
In a speech filled with assertions of Iran’s peace-oriented outlook, its desire to fight terrorism, and its willingness to engage with other nations in a quest for global tranquility, Rouhani related to Israel in only two passages, only in the negative, while referring to it as “the Zionist regime.”
First, he called on the world powers with whom Iran negotiated its July nuclear deal to strip Israel of its reported nuclear weapons arsenal. Demanding “full nuclear disarmament” in the Middle East, he said the major powers must “not to allow the Zionist regime to remain the only impediment in the way of realizing this important initiative.”
And second, he asserted that Israel’s “inhumane” treatment of the Palestinians was utilized by terror groups to justify their crimes, and that American support for Israel skewed US policy. Were it not for the United States’ “unwarranted support for the inhumane actions of the Zionist regime against the oppressed nation of Palestine today, the terrorists would not have an excuse for the justification of their crimes,” Rouhani said. Washington, he went on, was “throwing about baseless accusations, and pursuing other dangerous polices,” in defense of “regional allies” who only cultivate division.
The Iranian president began his address with criticism of Saudi Arabia for last week’s stampede at the hajj in which hundreds were killed, and called for “an independent and precise” investigation. But he devoted most of his speech to asserting the start of a “new chapter” in his country’s relations with the world.
He hailed the July nuclear deal for setting a precedent — as a “brilliant example of victory over war” and a case of two sides engaging in dialogue “before the eruption of a conflict” — and said Iran would continue to seek “win-win solutions.”
He said economic sanctions had been imposed upon “the Iranian nation and government” as a consequence of “misunderstandings and sometimes overt hostilities of some countries,” and swore that “Iran has never had the intention of producing a nuclear weapon; therefore sanction resolutions against Iran were unjust and illegal.”
The US, he said, had ultimately been forced to put aside “pressure and sanctions” and opt for negotiation.
Still, while insisting on Iran’s right to “legitimate and decisive self-defense against any kind of aggression,” it now wanted to move forward, he said. “Our policy is continue our peace-seeking efforts in the region… to rebuild our relationships with countries in the region, particularly our neighbors, based on mutual respect, and common, collective interests.”
Warning that Middle East turmoil could spread to other parts of world, he said Iran was “prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism” and “to help bring about democracy in Syria as well as Yemen.”
Rouhani also invited “the whole world and especially the countries of my region” to create “a united front” against extremism and violence. Iran, he concluded, sought peace, tranquility and spirituality.”
Rouhani has made similar overtures to the entire international community in the past, but also indicated that he does not count Israel among legitimate interlocutors. At a Davos summit last year, for instance, he said his country was ready to engage in diplomatic relations with all countries, but when asked if that included Israel, he elaborated: “We wish for a better future and to have beneficial relations with all that we recognize.” Iran does not recognize Israel, and its supreme leader Ali Khamenei repeatedly calls for Israel’s elimination.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will address the General Assembly later in the week, in his 2013 speech called Rouhani “a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.”