UNITED NATIONS — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Friday for renewed trust between his country and the United States and said, “It’s not set in stone” that relations between the two countries will always be bad.
The people of Iran don’t trust the USA because of America’s past policies, but “this trust must be restored,” Rouhani said at a news conference. “The people of Iran must learn to trust again, and the interlocutors must earn that trust again.”
The two nations have been estranged since the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah. Restored trust will be crucial if Iran and a U.S.-led group of six world powers hope to reach a final accord that limits Iran’s nuclear program this year and removes sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
Rouhani, who is attending the opening of the United Nation’s General Assembly this week, has urged continued negotiations on Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which he says is for peaceful purposes, but which the US. says is designed to produce nuclear weapons.
His news conference came a day after he criticized Western nations for getting involved in conflicts in the Middle East, accusing them of arming militias who have since turned into terrorist groups the U.S. is now combating, such as the Islamic State. The United States has labeled Iran as one of the world’s top sponsors of terrorist groups.
Rouhani praised negotiators from the six world powers for trying to reach a nuclear agreement. “Never before have I seen such a serious will,” he said. However, he called for more concessions before Iran will agree to any deal on its disputed nuclear program. “There have been steps forward, but they have not been significant,” he said. “If we’re to reach an agreement there must be more steps forward. … To reach an agreement we must have all these sanctions removed.”
A senior administration official who spoke on anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the nuclear talks, told reporters Friday night the latest round of talks were intense, but ended with no agreement.
The talks involved meetings between nuclear experts, private meetings between Iran and the six countries involved, group meetings, and talks between countries that are not party to the talks and Iranian officials, the official said.
In nearly all these talks, the issue of confronting ISIL, which was a major theme of the U.N. General Assembly this week, was also discussed, the officials said. But the official said the issue of ISIL was treated as a separate issue, and that there has been no hint that Iran seeks to link it to the nuclear talks.
The AP reported Friday that U.S. diplomats are considering a proposal to let Iran keep nearly half of the 10,000 centrifuge machines it now has spinning, but require it to reduce the amount of uranium gas fed into the machines so it would take more than a year to enrich enough material for a nuclear warhead.
Such a solution would give the international community enough time to react to any attempt by Iran to break the agreement and let Iran claim it did not give in to Western demands to reduce its number of centrifuges.
David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security, said such a proposal would be a sham because it could be reversed quickly.
Mark Dubowitz, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has conferred with the Obama administration and testified before Congress on Iran sanctions, says Rouhani appears to reflect an Iranian regime “brimming with confidence” that it can cut a favorable deal.
Dubowitz said Iran has succeeded in obtaining billions of dollars in relief from sanctions under a temporary agreement, and has won U.S. concessions in the talks on a permanent nuclear agreement: letting Iran keep enriching nuclear fuel; agreeing that the final agreement under discussion will someday end; allowing Iran’s long-range missile development to be excluded from the talks; and proposing that rather than dismantling its equipment for producing nuclear fuel, Iran need only disconnect pipes connecting the machines.
“They’ve seen the USA try to bend over backwards to offer concessions to get a deal,” Dubowitz said.
Asked by USA TODAY about Iran’s support of specific groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S., Rouhani said he is “amazed” to hear of Hezbollah, a party in the Lebanese government, described as terrorists. He called Hezbollah “a group that resisted the invasion of their land” by Israel.
He described Hezbollah, which has been accused of bombing a Jewish community center in Argentina and a busload of Jewish tourists in Bulgaria, as a group waging “resistance” against an oppressor (Israel).
Similarly, he defended Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently launched thousands of rocket at Israeli civilian targets. Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip through elections, he said. “How is it you don’t take the vote of the people at face value?”
He added, “I have never heard of Hamas and Hezbollah taking action in other countries.”