WASHINGTON – Iranian President Hasan Rouhani wants to reach an agreement over the country’s nuclear program within three months and has Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s full backing to broker a deal, it was reported Wednesday.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Rouhani said he was keen to set a three- or six-month timetable to seal a nuclear deal, emphasizing that Iran envisions a process lasting “months, not years.”
“If we are on the issue of the nuclear file, we need resolution in a reasonable time,” he told the paper. “The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that’s short — and wrap it up. That is a decision of my government, that short is necessary to settle the nuclear file. 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.”
Asked if he had the backing of Khamenei to conclude a deal, Rouhani said “settlement of the nuclear file is one of the responsibilities of my government.”
“My government is fully empowered to finalize the nuclear talks,” he said.
The United States, other Western powers and Israel suspect that Tehran is using its nuclear program as a cover to develop an atomic bomb.
In his speech to world leaders at the U.N. on Tuesday, Rouhani repeated Iran’s long-standing demand that any nuclear agreement must recognize its right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as fuel for nuclear energy, but at higher levels of enrichment, it could be used to build a nuclear weapon.
Rouhani’s comments come after signs of improving relations between the United States and Iran following his election earlier this year. The Iranian leader, however, balked at meeting President Barack Obama at the United Nations on Tuesday.
The first major test of several weeks of promising rhetoric between the foes was to come on Thursday when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif joined counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia to discuss Iran’s nuclear activities at the U.N.
Rouhani told the Post that Iran is willing to make its nuclear program “transparent” to assure the international community it is not seeking to build a bomb.
“If the West recognizes Iran’s legal rights, then there’s really no hurdle in creating full transparency that’s necessary to settle this case,” he said.
Rouhani suggested that reaching agreement on the nuclear program could lead to an eventual normalization of ties with the United States. Washington broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 following the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.
“If Mr. Obama and I were to get together, we would both be looking at the future, and the prospects ahead and our hopes for that future,” Rouhani said. “The notes and letters and exchanges between us are in that direction, and they will continue. We need a beginning point. I think that is the nuclear issue.”