Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will not give up on his country's nuclear aspirations, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned on Sunday in the midst of an apparent thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran.
Both US President Barack Obama and Rouhani are expected to address the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, leading to speculation of a possible meeting or contact between the two leaders.
A US official has privately acknowledged the administration's desire to engineer a handshake between the two leaders, which would be the highest-level US-Iranian contact since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
While the US has viewed positively a softening of Tehran’s hardline position, since Rouhani took office this August.
Hours before leaving for New York on Sunday Rouhani said that Tehran was ready for negotiations with Western powers provided they set no pre-conditions. He also said the world needed to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium.
According to the Tehran Times the first unit of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, will be temporarily handed over to Iranian experts, Atomic Energy Organization Iran Director Ali Akbar Salehi said on Sunday. Work began on the plant in the 1970s and it was built with German and Russian help to help improve Iran’s energy supply.
Israel had continually warned the international community not to be fooled by the new Iranian president and has insisted that Tehran not be allowed to produce enriched uranium, a necessary ingredient for nuclear weapons.
“Rouhani was elected with permission from [Iran¹s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei. He’s displaying the nicer face of Iran, but he won’t make significant concessions on the nuclear issue. I¹m sure that¹s his objective,” Ya¹alon told 25 Christian lawmakers from around the world at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem.
Ya¹alon referred to the Shia concept of Taqiyya, explaining that it means that “under certain circumstances, Muslims are allowed to cheat,” and that Rouhani “is going to lie.”
The defense minister also referred to Iranians targeting Israeli’s around the world, like in Argentina, Thailand and Bulgaria, warning that “we cannot underestimate [Iran¹s] determination to spread Shia Islam all over the globe, finance terror and undermine moderate Muslims.”
As for using diplomacy to curb Tehran¹s nuclear ambitions, Ya¹alon said that
“without a ‘big stick,’ like economic sanctions and a military option, there
is no way Iran will give up on military nuclear capabilities.”
The legislators were attending the Israel Allies Foundation Jerusalem Chairman¹s Conference, an umbrella organization that coordinates the activities of dozens of pro-Israel caucuses in parliaments around the world.
An Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post, “We are skeptical in the extreme. The Iranians are doing this smiling campaign, but there is no meat. Iranian policy has not changed. They continue to work towards having a nuclear weapons capability.”
Rouhani spoke about his country’s nuclear program and negotiations with the West when addressing the military parade on Sunday to commemorate the annual "Sacred Defense Week".
"In these talks all the rights of Iran, including nuclear and enrichment rights on our own territory should be accepted within the framework of international law," he said, according to state news agency IRNA.
Rouhani also paid homage to Iran's armed forces and indicated that the country would not forget about the suffering former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein imposed on Iran, and his backing from Arab and western states.
Iranian television showed footage of the parade featuring Sajjil and Ghadr missiles which commanders claim have a range of about 2,000 km (1,200 miles). Media reports said the latest air defense systems were also showcased.
"Our armed forces do not aim to dominate and colonize the region but in the face of aggression they will not dither and will defend the independence and the honor of our country and revolution with all their might," Rouhani said.
Last week, Iran's theocratic leader and highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. appeared to give his strongest endorsement yet to Rouhani's attempts to initiate talks with the United States, saying he agreed with "heroic flexibility".
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will lead nuclear talks with world powers, Fars news agency reported on Sunday, a move that would see the experienced pragmatist succeed a conservative who had overseen a hardening of Tehran's position.
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