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Iranian President Calls For More Diplomatic Nuclear Negotiations

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email

Updated 9:43 p.m. ET

UNITED NATIONS Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday his nation is prepared to resume negotiations over its disputed nuclear program - but only under certain conditions.

Rouhani told the United Nations General Assembly in New York during a speech that he is also open to talks with the United States "to manage differences." It was his first appearance on the world stage since he was elected in the summer.

The White House described Rouhanis speech as "less bombastic" than previous Iranian leaders.

The Iranian president did denounce economic sanctions as an inhumane act of violence against ordinary Iranians.

CBS News correspondent Major Garrett reports the White House said it expected this line of rhetoric, adding that it is the very pain these sanctions have caused that have led Iran to consider new talks on its nuclear program. Obama administration officials said Tuesday they're also not certain Rouhani is willing to do everything necessary to end sanctions, including curbing uranium enrichment and closing the underground Fordo nuclear facility.

The White House said sanctions have created negative economic growth in Iran, led to double digit unemployment, and cut oil exports in half.

Nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers have been stalled for months but Iran agreed to a new meeting this Thursday on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

Rouhani said every issue can be resolved through moderation and rejection of violence, and said the next round of nuclear talks should be "time-bound and results-oriented."

During his speech at the U.N., Rouhani also expressed hope that President Barack Obama would not be swayed by "war-mongering pressure groups" in the U.S. while dealing with Iran.

Rouhani reiterated during his speech and later on Twitter that nuclear weapons "have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine."

There had been some speculation that Rouhani and President Obama might meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, however it never materialized.

"We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself," a senior administration official said. However, the official added, "the Iranians got back to us; it was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home."

The leaders of the U.S. and Iran have not met face to face since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, but recent statements by Rouhani, who is more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have taken a conciliatory tone that suggest a possible opening for diplomatic relations. Mr. Obama and Rouhani have also exchanged letters.

Unlike Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust and called for Israel's destruction, Rouhani never mentioned Israel by name in his speech. But he was highly critical of the "occupation" of Palestine, saying: "Apartheid as a concept can hardly describe the crimes and the institutionalized aggression against the innocent Palestinian people."

Israel's delegation walked out of Rouhani's speech in protest, as it had done in previous years when Ahmadinejad spoke at the U.N.

"The Israeli delegation was consciously absent from the Iran address," reported CBS News' Pamela Falk from the U.N., "instructed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office to boycott the talk because of Rouhani's comments denying the Holocaust."

"And, just an hour after the Rouhani's address, Israel added a press conference by Israeli Minister Strategic Affairs and Intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, who said Iran has zero new commitments to meet its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions," Falk added.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour that aired on CNN Tuesday evening, Rouhani set himself apart from his predecessor Ahmadinejad on the topic of the Holocaust. "I have said before that I am not a historian, and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people, was reprehensible and condemnable as far as we are concerned."

The U.S. has long sought to limit Iran's uranium enrichment out of suspicion the country is trying to produce a nuclear weapon. Iranian leaders, however, have insisted they are only seeking to produce nuclear energy.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Mohammad Zarif, Iran's new foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, are set to meet later this week with other foreign ministers involved in international talks about Iran's nuclear program. President Obama indicated in his speech earlier at the U.N. that he would be directing Kerry to pursue an agreement with Iran about the country's nuclear program in coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

"We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable," the president said. While he said a diplomatic solution was preferable, Mr. Obama reiterated that the U.S. will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

In a new CBS News/New York Times poll released Tuesday, more Americans disapprove (44 percent) than approve (39 percent) of how President Obama is handling relations with Iran. Also, just 22 percent expect U.S. relations with Iran to improve.

At the U.N., Rouhani did hold a formal bilateral meeting Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande, whose country is among the Western nations that have been seeking a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear dispute. It was the first meeting of French and Iranian presidents since 2005, when Jacques Chirac hosted Mohammad Khatami in Paris.

The potential for direct engagement between the U.S. and Iran was being closely watched by Israel, which has long sought tough punishments against Tehran in retaliation for its nuclear program. Following Rouhani's speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of "hypocrisy" and said the new Iranian leader showed no sign of halting his nuclear program.

"This is precisely the Iranian intention, to talk and buy time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

Obama will seek to allay Netanyahu's concerns next week, when the Israeli leader visits the White House. Ahead of that visit, Obama signaled that any transformation in the American relationship with Iran would take time.

"The suspicion runs too deep," he said. "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 toward a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect."

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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