In an interview published Wednesday night, Rohani told the Post's David Ignatius that the preferred timeframe for the deal's conclusion would be within three months. "If it’s three months that would be Iran’s choice, if it’s six months that’s still good. (But) it’s a question of months not years," Rohani said.
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Rohani, currently in New York of the UN General Assembly told Ignatius that "the shorter it is the more beneficial it is to everyone." According to him, Ali Khamenei authorized him to conduct the talks with the intention of bring about a final deal.
Khamenei embraces Rohani during inauguration (Photo: MCT)
When asked whether Iran would allow international supervision and IAEA inspections, Rohani said " that from 2003 to 2005 Iran had actually committed itself to the additional (nuclear proliferation) protocol… (and) we actually gave the IAEA authority to supervise a number of our military sites that they were concerned about, as well."
Rohani refused to answer the question regarding what levels of uranium enrichment Iran was willing to commit to, but Ignatius noted that an Iranian source he spoke to said Teheran was willing to drop enrichment levels to 5% and agree to limit the storage on enriched materials – thus addressing both Israeli and American fears regarding Iran ability to quickly build a nuclear bomb in the future.
After a deal regarding the nuclear program is truck, Rohani intends to work on additional issues with the US, including normalizing relations between the two states. According to him, a UN meeting with Obama did not materialize because he did not want it to be confined by time and thus possibly to lead to a mistake so early on.
"Once the nuclear file is settled, we can turn to other issues… If Mr Obama and I were to get together, we would both be looking at the future, and the prospects ahead and our hopes for that future. The notes and letters and exchanges between us are in that direction, and they will continue. We need a beginning point. I think that is the nuclear issue."
Regarding the UN report of the Damascus suburb chemical attack, Rohani said: "Well, let me just say we know that chemical weapons have been used. We don’t know by whom or which group. That is unclear. We do know that it has been used and we are happy that Syria has agreed to join the Chemical Weapons protocol, and that is one result of agreeing to negotiate."
Rohani's conciliatory tone has struck some sensitive chords among hardliner Iranians.
"We need to gain something from the Americans, before we pose and smile with them,” a top Khameni aid was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
Hamid-Reza Taraghi, described by the time as one of the ayatollah's few trusted interprets, said that “Of course, Mr. Rohani also needed to convince some at home that he is not making any wild moves.” He expressed content from Rohani's speech but insinuated that talk of an Obama-Rohani meet was premature.
The new Iranian regime has been on what some have called a 'smile offensive'. In addition to Rohani's interview Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in comments published Thursday by official news agency IRNA that Iran is ready to engage in high-level talks with long-time foe the United States,
"A meeting is not an end in itself, nor is it ruled out... President (Hassan) Rohani has no problem in principle" with meeting US President Barack Obama, he said.
"It would have been a good beginning," Zarif added of speculation that such a meeting was to take place this week in New York, but in the end never did. President Rohani has always said he is prepared to do whatever is in the national interest," the minister added.
Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, a year after the Islamic revolution in Iran toppled the US-backed shah.
Zarif said of the mooted Rohani-Obama encounter that "the American government expressed its wish, on the eve of the UN General Assembly, for such a meeting" but "there was not enough time to arrange it".
"The meeting was not that important... we are not there for show but to defend the national interests of our nation," he added.
Obama "made more moderate comments than in the past", Zarif said.
"If that is the basis of a new political will to solve misunderstandings and ease Iranian concerns, this would be more important than a meeting. We will see during the ministerial meeting with the 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) what the US secretary of state's approach will be.”
The United States and Iran will later Thursday have one of their highest-level meetings since the 1979 revolution as Zarif and John Kerry join talks on the Iranian nuclear issue.
"We will see if he has the will to search for a solution to the Iranian nuclear question that is in the interests of the world, peace and security and also respect for the rights of the Iranian nation."
And while officials are saying that no bilateral talks are planned, there remains the chance for a quick tete-a-tete in the corridor.
Zarif wrote on his Twitter account from New York on Wednesday: "We have a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue" if world powers adjust to the "new Iranian approach."
AFP contributed to this report
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