Iranian President Hassan Rohani addressed the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday only a few hours after U.S. President Barack Obama used the same podium to proclaim his administration's interest in resolving the Iran nuclear issue peacefully - while reiterating his determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon by any means necessary.
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Rohani blasted international sanctions against Iran, comparing them to the widely criticized punitive measures against Iraq while the late Saddam Hussein was in power.
"These sanctions are violent, pure and simple," he told the UN General Assembly, adding that normal people, not political elites, ended up suffering because of them. "The negative impact is not nearly limited to the intended victims of sanctions."
Rohani also said he is prepared to engage immediately in "time-bound" talks on the nuclear issue and reach a "framework" for managing differences with U.S. He expressed hope the Obama administration will have political will to avoid influence of "warmongering pressure groups" on Iran nuclear issue.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the speech "cynical", saying that Iran is buying time to develop nuclear weapons capability. The prime minister also tweeted that "despite the charm offensive by the new Iranian president, the policies of the regime toward Israel have not changed."
"It was a cynical speech full of hypocrisy," Netanyahu said in a statement. "It had no practical suggestion to stop Iran's military nuclear program and no commitment to fulfill UN Security Council decisions. That exactly is the Iranian plan, to talk and buy time in order to advance Iran's capability to obtain nuclear weapons."
Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz accused Rohani of playing "game of deception."
In a statement responding to the speech, the Anti-Defamation League said Rohani was playing the “victim card” by charging that Iran is being persecuted by the international community and "fell well short of addressing in any serious way the harsh reality of Iran’s decades-long quest for nuclear weapons."
The ADL acknowledged that his speech "didn’t include the overt anti-Semitism of previous Iranian presidents, but added, "in defending Iran’s nuclear program and its 'peaceful purpose,' and asserting Iranian innocence and integrity on all matters, Rohani just offered more of the same platitudes and denials."
The Iranian leader's address was one of the most anticipated of the scheduled speeches over the next week at the UNGA, with hopes high that it will herald a major thaw in Iran's relationship with the U.S. after decades of tension.
During his speech, Obama said he "was encouraged" by Rohani's moderate stance, and that he directed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a diplomatic effort along with other world powers to resolve the nuclear dispute.