WASHINGTON - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a television interview on Wednesday that his government would never develop nuclear weapons and that he has full authority to negotiate a nuclear deal with the West, NBC News reported.
Speaking to the U.S. network at his presidential compound in Tehran, Iran’s new president also said the tone of a letter he had received from President Barack Obama, part of a recent exchange of messages between the two leaders, was “positive and constructive.”
“It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future,” Rouhani said, in another sign that he may be seeking a thaw between Iran and the West after years locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Rouhani’s comments came just six days before he will be in New York to address the U.N. General Assembly, a speech that will be closely watched for fresh diplomatic overtures.
Echoing what Iranian leaders have said before, Rouhani was quoted by NBC as declaring that his government would “never develop nuclear weapons” under any circumstances.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran is seeking bomb-making capability despite Tehran’s insistence that its nuclear program has only peaceful aims.
Rouhani, who took office in August, also said he had full authority in nuclear talks with the West.
Questions remain about how much bargaining room Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will give his negotiators, whether in secret talks with Washington or in multilateral discussions with major powers.
But comments this week by Khamenei, a staunch promoter of Iran’s nuclear program, about the need for “flexibility” suggests a new willingness at the highest level to explore a compromise solution to Tehran’s dispute with the West.
Since Rouhani was elected president in June, the centrist cleric has called for “constructive interaction” with the world, a dramatic shift in tone from the fiery anti-Western rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Obama said in a television interview on Tuesday that he is prepared to test the willingness of Rouhani to discuss the nuclear issue. But U.S. officials remain wary, insisting they want to see actions, not just words.