Iran talks nuclear power and Middle East

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Rouhani Putin
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (left) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (right) often defy Western powers like the US when it comes to international politics.

In his first interview since being sworn in as Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani spoke to NBC about his country’s nuclear ambitions and relations with Israel. He insists that Iran still has no plans to seek a nuclear bomb, and that he’s been given full authority over the program by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

These remarks address US concerns about nuclear weaponry and whether or not Rouhani has any real power to make decisions in Iran. The president explained, “In its nuclear program, this government enters with full power and has complete authority,” and that Iran has “time and again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever.”

While the previous Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was known for making very aggressive remarks about nations who stood in Iran’s way, Rouhani ran for presidency with a promise to seek relief from harsh US and Western restrictions against the country’s oil industry.  In the past two years, economic sanctions – reducing how much money a country can make – have crippled Iran’s oil exports – products sold outside a country – by more than half. This, in turn, has harmed the value of Iran’s money worldwide.

Rouhani also spoke on the recent matter of the Syrian government’s alleged involvement in a chemical attack on Damascus,  denying that the Iranian ally was responsible. He expressed that Iran desires peace and stability in the region, and would like nothing more than to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in all of the Middle East. When asked whether US President Barack Obama was weak for backing away from a military strike on Syria, Rouhani said, “We consider war a weakness. Any government that decides on war, we consider a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect for peace.” He also briefly mentioned that Obama had congratulated him on his presidency when he won in June, and that from his point of view, “the tone of the letter was positive and constructive.”

The interview with NBC comes ahead of Rouhani’s first appearance on the world stage as president in his upcoming visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. While the US is cautious about whether Rouhani will indeed be less extreme than Ahmadinejad, White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed, “I think it’s fair to say that the president believes there is an opportunity for diplomacy when it comes to the issues that have presented challenges to the United States and our allies with regards to Iran.” He added, “And we hope that the Iranian government takes advantage of this opportunity.”

Despite the outwardly cooperative tone of both Iran and the US, the issue of Israel is likely to cause division. Rouhani blamed Israel for causing “injustice to the people” in the Middle East and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu views Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The Iranian president believes Israel has “brought instability to the region, with its warmongering policies,” and this perspective is unlikely to go over well with Israel’s strongest ally – the US.

Images courtesy of Islamic Republic of Iran’s Presidency Website.