UNITED NATIONS // Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani on Thursday called on Israel to admit it has a nuclear bomb
Speaking ahead of a meeting between Iranian and western foreign ministers, Mr Rouhani also said he believed a deal could be struck with the international community on his own country’s controversial nuclear drive within three to six months.
The Iranian president spoke at a UN nuclear disarmament conference just before Iran’s foreign minister Javad Mohammad Zarif was to hold talks with US secretary of state John Kerry and ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
The meeting was called to discuss western allegations that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability and was to be one of the highest level Iran-US encounters since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Mr Rouhani said Iran’s arch-foe Israel should join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to contain the spread of nuclear weapons. Israel has never declared a nuclear arsenal, but is widely assumed to have several bombs.
Iran’s president, speaking as current leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, highlighted the failure of attempts to organise a Middle East nuclear free zone.
“Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay,” Mr Rouhani told the meeting.
He said “all nuclear activities in the region” would then be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
Iran is in dispute with the UN’s atomic watchdog, which says it has still not given definitive proof that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
Iran denies it seeks a bomb.
The UN Security Council members and Germany, dubbed the P5+1, made a new offer to Iran earlier this year, before Mr Rouhani’s election, on how to overcome a current stalemate in the nuclear dossier.
It is believed to have offered an easing of the international sanctions which have crippled the Iranian economy, in return for a slow down in Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment programme.
Western officials say they are still waiting for a response.
“No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons,” insisted Mr Rouhani.
“As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist. The only absolute guarantee is their total elimination,” he said.
Mr Rouhani told the Washington Post he wants a quick deal on the nuclear standoff adding he has the full backing of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that’s short — and wrap it up,” said Mr Rouhani.
“If it’s three months, that would be Iran’s choice, if it’s six months, that’s still good. It’s a question of months not years.”
Mr Zarif will be the first Iranian minister to sit down with western counterparts to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme.
While US officials say no bilateral talks are planned between Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif, an unofficial encounter is possible.
“We’re going to have a good meeting I’m sure,” Mr Kerry said earlier on Thursday.
The United States sought a meeting between President Barack Obama and Mr Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN assembly. But Iran said it was too difficult.
Iran has, however, sharply criticised the UN nuclear watchdog over “baseless allegations” about its atomic activity, a document showed.
The uncompromising language in the paper, and the fact that Iran asked the UN agency to make it public, may disappoint those hoping for a softening of Tehran’s nuclear stance under Mr Rouhani.
Iran’s new government said on Wednesday it wanted to “jump-start” separate talks with six world powers on a diplomatic solution to a decade-long dispute over its uranium enrichment programme and hoped for a deal in three to six months.
But in a 20-page “explanatory note” posted on the website of the IAEA, Iran’s mission to the watchdog detailed many objections to its latest report on Tehran’s nuclear programme, issued last month.
Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters