Addressing a United Nations nuclear disarmament conference, Mr. Rouhani reaffirmed Iran’s longstanding policy of creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and calling for Israel to put its undeclared nuclear arms under UN inspection.
“The world has waited too long for nuclear disarmament,” said Rouhani, calling on weapons states to lead in global disarmament efforts. “As long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat of their use exists.”
Speaking as head of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of more than 120 countries, Rouhani said, “No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons.”
Rouhani’s comments come as the top diplomats of Iran, the United States, and five other world powers prepare to meet later today – the highest level direct US-Iran contact in years between the arch-rivals – for discussions on Iran’s nuclear case.
The new president, who is under immense pressure at home to prove that engagement with the West will pay off, is pushing for a swift agreement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran hopes the talks will “jump start” nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) that have stalled since last spring.
“We have a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue,” Mr. Zarif said in a tweet.
Diplomats have held six high-level rounds of negotiations since early last year, at venues from Turkey to Iraq to Russia to Kazakhstan, but failed to reach agreement on a way to cap Iran’s nuclear program to prevent a future nuclear weapon – an aim that Iran says it rejects – while also satisfying Iran’s demand that it can keep enriching uranium for peaceful energy purposes.
Like all senior Iranian officials, Rouhani has stated repeatedly and unequivocally that Iran rejects atomic arms, and told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that nuclear weapons “have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine.”
In New York, Rouhani has also said he envisions dramatically speeding up the nuclear negotiations, putting a solution together within three months. Analysts indicate that that narrow window – perhaps extending to the Persian New Year in March next year – may be all the time Rouhani has to show results at home from the current charm offensive and bid to reengage with the West.
A top priority for Rouhani is fulfilling promises to loosen US, European Union, and UN sanctions that have helped cripple Iran’s economy.
“The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the [nuclear] negotiations that’s short – and wrap it up,” Rouhani said in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday. “The shorter it is, the more beneficial it is to everyone. 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.”
A nuclear deal would be a stepping stone for resolving other issues between Iran and the rest of the world, Rouhani said.
“After resolution of the nuclear issue there are no impossibilities in terms of advancing other things forward,” Rouhani told the Post. “The foundation for all this is the confidence that has to be built. That clearly will help with everything else. Everything is possible after the settlement.”
In his disamarmanent speech, Rouhani said: “Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, should join thereto without any further delay.” That step would put “all nuclear activities in the region” under inspection by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.