NITED NATIONS (AFP) – President Barack Obama and Iran’s new leader made very tentative moves to end decades of hostility between their countries but could not break the deadlock enough to organize a meeting.
Obama said an accord was possible if Iran ends concerns over its nuclear program.
New Iranian president Hassan Rowhani called on Obama to ignore “war-mongering pressure groups” to make a deal. He said he was ready for “time-bound and results oriented” talks.
The longstanding gap between the United States and Iran was evident in Obama and Rowhani’s speeches to the U.N. General Assembly and the failure to orchestrate at least a symbolic handshake between them.
Obama said mistrust between the United States and Iran has “deep roots” and that Tehran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons” would remain a U.S. foreign policy priority.
But a “meaningful agreement” between the arch-rivals is possible, he added.
“I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicion runs too deep,” said Obama.
“But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship — one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
“To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable” on the nuclear program.
“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama said, adding that he had ordered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue diplomatic efforts.
Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet for the first time at international talks on Iran’s nuclear program on Thursday.
Rowhani said Iran poses “absolutely no threat to the world,” in his speech and condemned international sanctions against Iran.
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.”
“Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions,” Rowhani said.
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.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran over its uranium enrichment.