“You, the uninvited guest in our region, leave the region and then you will see that it becomes heaven,” President Hasan Rouhani said in an address to a gathering of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders, according to a translation by Kayhan, a hard-line Iranian publication close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s “moderate” new head of government told the commanders that the Syrian civil war was part of a wider Western conspiracy.
“We are well aware that the disputes are not over one person or one president or the coming to power of a particular faction in Syria,” Rouhani said. “It goes beyond that, and it is obvious that the West has plans for the whole region.”
“What has happened in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain are rings of a single chain of events which aims to impact the region and weaken the resistance front,” he added, using the term favored by the Iranian and Syrian regimes and allies like Hezbollah to describe their anti-Israel alliance.
During the event Rouhani sat alongside IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Muhammad-Ali Jafari, who in his own speech asserted that the “resistance front” had successfully seen off Western-backed attempts to topple the Assad regime.
“So far, the enemies’ plot for military intervention in Syria has failed,” Jafari said. “Given the fact that enemies cannot overcome the resistance front in Syria, they definitely cannot take any action against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Two days after Rouhani addressed the IRGC gathering, he sat down with NBC News in Tehran for the interview that made headlines and generated much discussion after portions were aired on “NBC Nightly News” on Wednesday, and NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday.
Among the highlighted quotes were his assertions that Iran has “never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so,” that the Iranian people have “the right of free dialogue and the right to think freely,” and that “we do not seek war with any country. We seek peace and friendship among the nations of the region.”
And asked about Israeli criticism, Rouhani said Israel’s “usurper” and “warmongering” government was not in a position to criticize Iran’s “democratically and freely elected” one.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hit back at the warmongering charge in a statement later, saying, “Iran sends its people to massacre innocent civilians in Syria and encourages terror around the world.”
As to Rouhani’s response to Curry’s question about the Holocaust, Netanyahu said, “You don’t have to be a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust; you have to be human.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry “both believe that there’s an opportunity for diplomacy [with Iran] right now.”
“The world has heard a lot from President Rouhani’s administration about its desire to improve Iran’s relations with the international community, and President Obama and the secretary certainly believe that we should test that assertion,” she said.
“We welcome the new administration’s change in rhetoric. However, as we’ve said repeatedly, there’s a difference between rhetoric and action. We must see concrete action to back up the rhetoric.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said there were no plans currently for an Obama-Rouhani meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in New York – where both are scheduled to be next week – but also did not rule one out.
“It’s possible, but it has always been possible. The extended hand has been there from the moment the president was sworn in,” he said during a press briefing, alluding to Obama’s offer in early 2009 of an open hand to Iranian leaders who were willing to “unclench their fist.”