TEHRAN — On the eve of a landmark trip to attend the UN General Assembly, Iran’s president offered on Sunday his most expansive vision that a deal to settle the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program could open doors for greater cooperation on regional flash points such as the Syrian civil war.
The linking of Middle East affairs and broad-stroke rhetoric by Hasan Rouhani served as something of a final sales pitch to President Obama ahead of the UN gathering, where Rouhani hopes to garner pledges from Western envoys to restart stalled nuclear negotiations as a way to ease painful economic sanctions.
Rouhani also must try to sell his policies of outreach to skeptical Iranian hard-liners, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Failure to return from New York with some progress — either pledges to revive nuclear talks or hints that the United States and its allies may consider relaxing sanctions — could increase pressures on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei to withdraw his apparent backing for Rouhani’s overtures with Washington. It adds up to a high-stakes week ahead for Rouhani in his first gathering with Western leaders since his inauguration last month.
While his effort to open new diplomatic space is genuine, it’s unclear where it could find footholds. Obama has exchanged letters with Rouhani and said he would welcome groundbreaking direct talks after a nearly 35-year diplomatic estrangement. But Washington previously has rejected offering a major rollback in sanctions — Rouhani’s main goal — as a way to push ahead nuclear talks.
Rouhani and Obama are scheduled to speak within hours of each other Tuesday at the General Assembly’s annual meeting, setting up the possibility of the first face-to-face exchange between US and Iranian leaders since shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“The Iranian nation is ready to talk and negotiate with the West, provided that there are no preconditions, the talks are on equal terms, and there is mutual respect. [The West] should not consider only its own interests. Mutual interests should be considered,’’ Rouhani said Sunday.
He added that if Western countries acknowledge Iran’s “rights” — a reference that includes the contentious issue of uranium enrichment — it would be a path toward mutual ‘‘cooperation, logic, peace, and friendship.’’