Iranian President Hassan Rohani, in a television interview, said his country is not seeking war but harshly criticized Israel for bringing "instability" to the Middle East and for questioning his government's intentions toward nuclear arms.
The comments from the new Iranian president came during the second part of an interview with NBC News that aired on Thursday, just days before he travels to New York for an appearance at the United Nations.
Rohani called Israel "an occupier, a usurper government that does injustice to the people of the region" and said it "has brought instability to the region with its war-mongering policies."
But when asked further about Israel, Rohani also said: "What we wish for in this region is rule by the will of the people. We believe in the ballot box. We do not seek war with any country. We seek peace and friendship among the nations of the region."
In an earlier part of the interview that aired on Wednesday, Rohani said Iran would never develop nuclear weapons and that he had "complete authority" to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States and other Western powers.
Rohani, who took office in August, reiterated that stance when asked about recent comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioning his motives. Israel, thought to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, is pushing to halt Iran's nuclear advance, and Netanyahu has called Rohani a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
"We have clearly stated that we are not in pursuit if nuclear weapons and will not be," Rohani told NBC.
The interview appears to be the latest signal by the centrist cleric - that has included a recent letter exchange with U.S. President Barack Obama - aimed at improving relations between Iran and the West after years of hostility. Rohani also appeared to signal support for the pro-democracy uprisings sweeping across the region.
But some questions, especially about Iran's stance toward Israel, remained unanswered.
Rohani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had infamously said the Holocaust was a myth.
Rohani declined to say whether he also believed that.
"I'm not a historian. I'm a politician," he replied. "What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other, and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice."
He also appeared to support lifting Iran's Internet censorship, saying: "We want the people, in their private lives, to be completely free."
"In today's world, having access to information and the right of free dialogue and the right to think freely is a right of all peoples, including Iranians," he said. "The people must have full access to all information worldwide."
As part of that effort, the government plans to set up a commission for citizen's rights in the near future, he said.
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