, UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 – US President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that he is ready to test a difficult “diplomatic path” with Iran’s new government despite concerns over its nuclear program.
Amid intense speculation that Obama could meet Iranian counterpart Hassan Rowhani here at the assembly, the US leader devoted much of his speech to the UN summit to overtures to the new Tehran leadership. Rowhani was to speak to the assembly later Tuesday.
Obama said “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons” would be a US foreign policy priority and stressed that “mistrust has deep roots” between the United States and Iran.
The United States ended diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 in the stormy aftermath of the Islamic Revolution. Rivalry has heightened since then, with the United States leading the sanctions drive stemming from western accusations that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb.
“I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight the suspicion runs too deep. 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.”
Obama said he had written to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rowhani saying that the United States was “determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon” but that it did not want “regime change”.
Noting that Rowhani has said Iran will “never” build a nuclear bomb, Obama said there was a basis for “a meaningful agreement.”
“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.
“For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world.”
Syria dominated speeches on the first day of the assembly, however, and Obama said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must face “consequences” if he fails to hand over his chemical weapons.
Obama insisted the United States is ready to use military force to protect its “core interests” in the Middle East. And he renewed a demand that the UN Security Council pass a “strong” resolution backing a Russia-US plan to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons.
Obama lashed out at doubters who questioned whether Assad carried out the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus, which US intelligence says killed some 1,400 people.
He said it was an “insult to human reason” to believe that opposition rebels could have staged the attack.