(CNSNews.com) – Hours after snubbing President Obama by declining an informal “encounter” on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Iran’s “moderate” new president in his first speech to the world body said Tuesday that those who claim Iran poses a threat are themselves a threat to international peace and security.
President Hasan Rouhani said he had listened carefully to a speech delivered earlier by Obama and expressed the hope that the U.S. “will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups,” to allow the U.S. and Iran to “arrive at a framework to manage our differences.”
In his speech, Obama had said while he did not believe the difficult history between the two nations could be “overcome overnight,” if the nuclear dispute could be resolved “that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Obama also said he was encouraged that Iranians had given Rouhani “a mandate to pursue a more moderate course.” He assured Iran that the U.S. is “not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.”
After eight consecutive appearances at the U.N. by his often provocative, Holocaust-denying predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s first visit to New York was awaited with much anticipation.
Although different in tone, however, the new president’s speech contained familiar criticisms of the U.S. and the West, with references to “hegemonic” behavior, “Cold War mentality,” attempts at “globalizing Western values as universal ones,” “Islamophobic, Shia-phobic, and Iran-phobic discourses,” and criticism of military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The age of zero-sum games is over, even though a few actors still tend to rely on archaic and deeply ineffective ways and means to preserve their old superiority and domination,” he said in an apparent reference to the U.S. and European allies.
The speech also included the customary condemnation of Israel, with Rouhani declaring that “apartheid as a concept can hardly describe the crimes and the institutionalized aggression against the innocent Palestinian people.” Israel’s seats were empty during the address.
On the Syrian conflict, he criticized those who “helped to militarize the situation through infusion of arms and intelligence into the country and active support of extremist groups” – but said nothing of Iran’s deep support for the Assad regime.
He repeatedly portrayed Iran as a victim, with references to the assassinations of political figures and nuclear scientists in Iran. Sanctions faced by Iran over the nuclear issue, he said, were inherently “violent” and “violate inalienable human rights.”
The assessment that Iran was a threat had been used as a pretext for “a long catalogue of crimes and catastrophic practices over the past three decades,” he said.
“Those who harp on the so-called threat of Iran are either a threat against international peace and security themselves or promote such a threat,” Rouhani stated. “Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region. In fact, in ideals as well as in actual practice, my country has been a harbinger of just peace and comprehensive security.”
Successive U.S. administrations have named Iran the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, a record which the State Department says has in fact worsened in recent years.
“Rouhani’s choice not to acknowledge Iran’s role in regional violence is chipping away at the persona he’s crafted these last few months,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies vice-president for research Jonathan Schanzer commented on Twitter during the speech.
“I’m struck by Rowhani’s return to the same old grievances & conspiracies while ignoring Iran’s violence & terror,” he added later.
Earlier, a senior administration official confirmed that the Iranian delegation had turned down an offer by the U.S. for Obama and Rouhani to have “an encounter” – rather than a formal meeting – on the U.N. sidelines.
“It was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home,” the official said. “We had discussions at a working level with them and ultimately it became clear that that was too complicated for them at this time.”
“I think part of what has strengthened the United States in the international community in terms of our unity is the president’s openness to engage Iran, and that’s what we’ve indicated from the beginning of the administration,” the official added. “And I think that indicates that we’re ready to solve this problem, and that’s what we’ve indicated not just when we came into office, but most recently with President Rouhani.”