Iran's new leader offers mixed messages to U.S. in address

By Paul Richter

Los Angeles Times

UNITED NATIONS -- Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, told world leaders Tuesday that his government is prepared to “engage immediately in result-oriented” talks with the United States, but also complained about American economic sanctions and military intervention in the Middle East.

In a widely anticipated speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Rouhani said that Iran and the U.S. “can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” adding that his government has no desire to increase tensions between the two longtime adversaries.

He said he had listened carefully to President Obama’s speech in the morning, in which the U.S. leader called for an intense diplomatic effort to overcome differences about Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

The 64-year-old cleric emphasized his desire for tolerance and moderation. But despite the predictions of Western diplomats, his speech included no major gestures to win over Iran's critics, such as an acknowledgment of the Holocaust.

Rouhani's remarks were far milder than those of his fiery predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at similar gatherings. But like Ahmadinejad, he did not miss an opportunity to catalog what he sees as America's misdeeds and staunchly defended Iran’s policies abroad.

He condemned the United States' use of drones and recalled the “millions” of lives lost in Iraq.

He complained about American activists who have pushed for tough action against Iran, calling them “warmongering pressure groups.”

And he faulted U.S. officials for repeating that “the military option is on the table” when he said the preferred option should be peace.

Rouhani said his election in June showed the “moderation” of the Iranian public and said the country “poses absolutely no threat to the world or region.”

He said Western sanctions were “violent” and hurt not only their intended target, but also unintended victims, as well as the countries that imposed them.

Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist at the Eurasia Group consulting firm, said Rouhani's speech was "the minimum reach-out he could have done."

"Why is a difficult question," Kupchan said. "Probably domestic politics, but could be he's tougher than we thought."