Iran’s newly elected president Hassan Rouhani has promised to “never” develop a nuclear weapon under his reign, during a U.S. television interview ahead of a visit to the United Nations in New York.
Rouhani, who came into power in June, insisted that his country had no intention of ever building nuclear weapons and claimed to have full authority over any negotiations Tehran may have with the west over its controversial uranium enrichment programme.
"Under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever," Rouhani told U.S. network NBC News on Wednesday.
"We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do so," he said, adding that his government had “sufficient political latitude” with Tehran, and most particularly Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to negotiate with the U.S..
Speaking to NBC News at his presidential compound in Tehran, the Iranian President acknowledged that he had exchanges letters with U.S. president Barack Obama after he was elected in June.
Describing Obama’s letters as "positive and constructive,” Rouhani noted that the U.S. President had raised several issues he was concerned with and that Rouhani had responded to the points Obama raised.
“From my point of view, the tone of the letter was positive and constructive,” Rouhani said. “It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future.”
The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the Western-oriented shah. On Tuesday, Obama pledged to test the "opportunity here for diplomacy."
"I hope the Iranians take advantage of it. There are indications that Rouhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States – in a way that we haven't seen in the past," Obama told Spanish-language network Telemundo, as cited by AFP.
The White House also played down the chances of Obama meeting Rouhani in New York, while not completely ruling it out as well.
"In his letter the president (Obama) indicated that the U.S. is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"The letter also conveyed the need to act with a sense of urgency to address this issue because, as we have long said, the window of opportunity for resolving this diplomatically is open, but it will not remain open indefinitely," he added.
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Nevertheless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the U.S. to remain wary of Iran, describing Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing".
According to Reuters, Israel suspects that Iran is using "deception and concealment" to buy time for its nuclear programme and has threatened military action to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.
"The picture that the Iranian representatives are portraying regarding openness and transparency of their nuclear programme ... stands in sharp contradiction with Iran's actual actions and the facts on the ground,” said the head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, Shaul Chorev, as cited by Reuters.
Through "deception and concealment, Iran is creating a false impression about the status of its engagement with the agency ... with a view to buy more time in Iran's daily inching forward in every aspect of its nuclear military programme,” he added.