Rouhani sees more cooperation with neighbours after nuclear deal

In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Hassan Rouhani said that a final agreement on Iran's controversial nuclear programme will lead to more cooperation in the fight against extremism.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is escorted to the podium for his address to the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 25. Mike Segar / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

NEW YORK // Iranian president Hassan Rouhani told the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday that if a long-term deal on its nuclear programme is reached, Tehran will cooperate with neighbouring countries to fight extremism and resolve other regional conflicts.

As the General Assembly continues this week, negotiators from Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are currently in New York for the latest round of negotiations before the deadline at the end of November.

If a final agreement is reached, “then an entirely different environment will emerge for cooperation at the regional and international levels, allowing for greater focus on some very important regional issues such as combating violence and extremism in the region,” Mr Rouhani said.

He warned that “any delay” will raise the “costs not only at our expense but also at the expense of … security prospects of our region”.

“All the nations of the region have to keep in mind that we are in the same boat.”

This week, an Iranian official said Tehran would be willing to cooperate with the US-led coalition against ISIL extremists, but only on the condition the P5+1 agrees to additional flexibility.

Mr Rouhani said that Iran is committed to its “peaceful nuclear programme, including enrichment and … our full nuclear rights on Iranian soil”. The P5+1 have agreed to Iran’s right to enrichment in principle, but not where the enrichment would take place. [need to check]

After Mr Rouhani spoke, the US secretary of state John Kerry held three-way talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, and EU foreign policy chief, Cathy Ashton, as they push for a deal.

US officials have rejected linking the nuclear negotiations to coordinating with Iran against ISIL. Iran has opposed airstrikes by the US and five Arab countries against the group in Syria.

Iran and the Gulf Arab countries have a common interest in defeating ISIL. However, the Arab countries have not yet openly co-operated with Iran in the fight against the group because they blame its rise on the policies of the Tehran-backed Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.

They are also wary of the nuclear negotiations, both because they want Iran to have no enrichment capabilities which could be weaponized, and fear that a deal would allow Iran to pursue what they consider a destabilising regional strategy through support for pro-Iran proxies in Arab countries.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Mr Rouhani dismissed these concerns, saying “the notion that Iran seeks to control other Muslim countries in the region is a myth”.

“We work towards putting an end to the delusional Iranophobia, setting the stage for building strategic partnerships with our neighbours.”

Mr Rouhani also called for an effort against ISIL led by regional countries, with international assistance but not led by Washington, saying that if the international community fails to “entrust the job to the people in the region … this world will not be safe for anyone”.

On Wednesday, Mr Rouhani had dismissed western and Arab support for more moderate Syrian rebel factions, calling them terrorists, during a talk at the New America Foundation think tank.

During his speech at the UN, Mr Rouhani instead said that moderate leaders in the Middle East should be given a “position of active leadership” in the fight against extremists.

“The voices of these leaders are the true voices of moderation in the Islamic world,” he said. He mentioned Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as countries that are tired of extremism and violence.

* With additional reporting by Reuters