Rouhani rules out nuclear bomb: a new era for Iran?
New Iranian president sends strongest signal yet that he is seeking diplomatic thaw with the West
IRAN'S new president Hassan Rouhani has insisted his country has no intention of developing weapons of mass destruction. In his first interview with Western media since coming to power in June, Rouhani told NBC he is hopeful of a diplomatic breakthrough over Tehran's nuclear programme, which the US fears is close to creating a bomb.
"We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so. We are solely seeking peaceful nuclear technology," he said. Rouhani added that he had "full power and authority" from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to strike a nuclear deal with the West.
NBC describes his words as "significant", representing the "first reason for any optimism, the first sign of any movement, from Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons, right when the crisis in nearby Syria has reached its peak".
The journalist Ann Curry, who interviewed Rouhani, says he is clearly trying to send a message ahead of his debut speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York next Tuesday that "under his administration there is a different Iran, one that wants to make a deal".
There is even talk of an informal meeting between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama at the assembly next week. One senior White House official told the Wall Street Journal: "The tone of confrontation has significantly diminished. We're in the early stages here of testing whether or not this is real."
Roger Boyes in The Times remains unconvinced and believes that the recent Syrian agreement has sent a clear signal to Iran: "the US will not engage in major military action against a country developing nuclear or chemical weapons, even if this stock poses a threat to an ally".
No wonder Rouhani is so keen to meet Obama this month, says Boyes. "Tehran will simulate a readiness to cooperate on Syria while enriching yet more uranium, speeding up work on its heavy water reactor and soft-shuffling towards a bomb."
There is "plenty of scepticism" in the West over Tehran's new tone, says the New York Times. But several Iran experts believe this "new moderation seems different". It appears to mark an end to Iran's ideological taboo against direct talks with the US and, this time, Khamenei appears to be on board.
Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "relished every opportunity to ruffle the feathers of Western leaders", says the New York Times, driving the country into diplomatic isolation and saddling it with debilitating economic sanctions that more than halved its oil sales.
"Economic reasons are now justifying political reasons to talk to the US," says Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to Rouhani. "We are now at a unique moment in the Islamic republic's history." ·