Rohani tones down anti-Israel rhetoric

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Rohani tones down anti-Israel rhetoric

The Iranian president’s first speech to world leaders was absent anti-Israel rhetoric and offered up negotiations with the US and its allies over the disputed nuclear programme, showing a more moderate face of the hard-line regime in Tehran.

By (AP)

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Published: Wed 25 Sep 2013, 7:55 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 6:07 PM

However, Iranian President Hasan Rohani also took repeated digs at America and the West on Tuesday, much like those that were staples of his predecessor’s annual messages to the United Nations General Assembly.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani is seen on a television monitor as he addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. -AP

Rohani’s speech signaled Iran’s return to a more measured, if still resolute, approach in its foreign policy even as it delivered a reality check that diplomatic warming will not come quickly or easily.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said he did not think Rohani’s speech was conciliatory. But his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “set an incredibly low bar for dignified behaviour” and Rohani delivered a less polarising, less divisive speech, he said.

“Given how vitriolic that Ahmadinejad’s language was, in contrast he certainly appears as a moderate,” Sadjadpour said.

Rohani even went a step further in an interview with CNN airing on Wednesday, saying “the crime the Nazis created toward the Jews is reprehensible and condemnable.”

Ahmadinejad, in contrast, once called the Holocaust a “myth” and later said more research was needed to determine whether it had really happened.

And while Rohani briefly touched on what he described as Palestine’s depravation and subjugation, he also ended his speech with a reference not only to the Quran and Bible, but also the Torah.

Israel, however, was not pacified. The Israeli delegation walked out of his speech, and Israeli Minister for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz called his rhetoric a “game of deception.”

“Rohani came here today in order to cheat the world,” Steinitz told reporters in a hastily organised news conference at the UN after the speech. “And unfortunately many people are willing to be cheated.”

But in a text message statement sent to reporters, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s instruction to Israeli delegates to walk out was a “mistake,” saying it created the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran’s suspect nuclear programme.

The day began with breathless speculation that America and Iran would start to bury decades of suspicion and animosity with a handshake and an exchange of pleasantries if they crossed paths inside the UN. But the euphoria was fading by midday, when Rohani skipped a lunch where he could have greeted President Barack Obama.

He may have passed on lunch because alcohol was being served — something that could have been shameful for the devout Muslim back home.

Rohani spoke just hours after Obama also addressed the General Assembly. The American leader spoke of the years of isolation between the two nations since the 1979 Iranian revolution that spurred the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran.

Obama said he needs proof of Iran’s goodwill before the US would be willing to shift its tough stance against the country’s nuclear programme, a reference to harsh sanctions that Washington has imposed.

While Ahmadinejad had insisted that Iran continued to flourish despite the punishing Western sanctions, Rohani called them “violent” and said they violated human rights. Iran is seeking relief from the sanctions at nuclear negotiations.

Experts said Rohani’s speech may have marked a return to the subtle rapprochement of former Iranian Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and particularly Mohammad Khatami.

Standoffs with the West over nuclear activities and Syria now stand as key tests of whether relations will improve.

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