United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Rouhani at UNGA : On Saudis & Yemen

During two meetings in New York, President Hassan Rouhani covered a range of issues from working with the United States to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, tensions with Saudi Arabia, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and more. On September 25 he met with journalists and on September 27 he met with American think tanks, academics and NGOs. The following are excerpted remarks on Saudi Arabia and Yemen as translated simultaneously by the official Iranian interpreter.

Meeting with journalists
About Iran and Saudi Arabia, unfortunately, today, the relationship between the two countries is not a good one despite the fact that the people of Saudi Arabia, as tourists, as pilgrims, do come to Iran. And our people… go to Saudi Arabia, but principally, of course, for pilgrimage. …[A]s a matter of fact, yesterday, a great many people while performing religious ceremonies related to the hajj pilgrimage… hundreds of people lost their lives. And many, many Iranians lost their lives. The precise number is not as of yet clear…
Now, why did this tragedy happen? Even about two weeks ago, there was another tragedy in the Holy Mosque, the Masjid al Haram in Mecca —the crane incident that caused the death of a number of people, including some Iranians. These incidents, they just do not conform to the normal parameters of such religious ceremonies and pilgrimages. Some people do believe that because Saudi Arabia has transferred the bulk of its various military forces to the border with Yemen and for operations in Yemen. And it’s running short on man power vis-à-vis its security forces, so those who are often put to use are inexperienced. Some may say or may think that there are other reasons. We’re not yet at a point where we can… reach a conclusion as to how the tragedy occurred yesterday... But at the very least, when it concerns public opinion… it may show an ineptitude by the government of Saudi Arabia… [S]ome may think that [the Saudis] are not sufficiently responsible to be the hosts of these many millions… of hajj pilgrims. This is nothing new…
Of course, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran has worsened because of Yemen. This is absolutely correct. …[T]hey should not have had the right to interfere in Yemen’s internal problems… We can have diplomatic contacts between the two countries. But in my opinion, if we can resolve our issues with Saudi Arabia, it would not only benefit both countries, it would also benefit the entire region.
Meeting with think tanks, academics and NGOs
More than about 20 years ago when I was speaking with a high ranking Saudi Arabian official. I told him, I reminded him that during the unprovoked war of Iraq against Iran, you have done A, B, C and D. And I gave him multiple examples. And he said these are not the only things that we did in support of Iraq against you. He added a few more things that they have done, which I was unaware of. And he told us, 70 kilometers away from the port in Jeddah, we built a base of operations from which to exclusively ship out weapons and supplies to Baghdad for their war efforts…And they said that Iran is dangerous and Saddam is our refuge, the umbrella under which we can seek refuge from Iran. So, in practice, who was the danger? Who was the threat here? Us? Or Saddam Hussein himself?
In a Farsi proverb we say that some raise snakes in their own sleeve and then at the end of the life cycle, the snake ends up poisoning that same person... The same scenario applies to Saddam Hussein, who attacked Kuwait, and if he had been given the chance, he would have attacked Saudi Arabia, and he would have attacked Qatar and Yemen. This is not something that I’m guessing, this is a letter that Saddam Hussein had openly written to us and in which he had announced this plan…
We never attacked any country, even when the Soviet Union fell apart and a number of small countries were established in the northern part of our borders--countries some of which were previously a part of Iran’s territory, and it would have been perhaps explainable if we would have tried to overtake those countries and bring them back to Iran again. We never even thought about doing anything like that. We were one of the first countries to recognize their legitimacy. I’m speaking of our northern neighbors, so you must ask those who express their fears and preoccupations and concerns about why they exist. Of course, there was a vast campaign of Iranophobia conducted by many, still being carried out by many. It has become a cottage industry.”
We also do not run, by the way, any other countries or any other capitals. If what was meant by that, that we run or manage the government of Iraq, that is laughable and of course far, far from the truth. If they meant that we run Damascus or manage Damascus, that is not what we do. It has its own government, and at the time that it requests our aid and assistance against terrorism, then we will render that aid. Lebanon, the same thing applies to Lebanon. It has its own government. Yemen, the same thing. We don’t control any of those.
Our relationships vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, why are they not good? I am very saddened as well. I am sorry that it is not good. During the very first days following my election to the president’s office, the very first press interview, media interview, I did openly announce that we wish to have a very good relationships with Saudi Arabia. In interpreted that in-depth and the very next day, the Saudi Arabian king sent me a letter of gratitude because of the content of that interview. And I responded to that letter.
We were moving towards better relations with Saudi Arabia. I did try my best by choosing someone with the greatest of qualifications who was the previous ambassador from Iran to Saudi Arabia for many many years and had close-knit relationships with the officials in Saudi Arabia. I chose that person and sent him to Riyadh again as an Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
But after the death of the late king and the new guard taking power, conditions really changed tangibly inside Saudi Arabia…I don’t want to get into a discussion of what aims Saudi Arabia pursues. But when Saudi Arabia started the aerial bombardments and striking, raining missiles upon Yemen, it complicated our equation. Perhaps Saudi Arabia says that “Yemen is our neighbor. That Iranian influence in Yemen was unacceptable, too much, that’s why we felt threatened.” But the truth is that we didn’t do anything special in Yemen…
For a long time, we never thought, quite frankly, that the Houthis would be able to take over Sanaa. They always had influence. But from day one, we always suggested to the Houthis to sit down and talk and carry out a dialogue and negotiate with their political rivals and form a coalition and unity government. The Houthis were never seeking to control the entirety of the Yemeni government, and that is not what they’re seeking today either.
Yemen is a historical country, is a vast country. The Houthis compose part -- a legitimate part – of that country. There are other groups as well. Of course, the Houthis are Zaydis. Here in the media referred to as Yazidis but they’re Zaydis. There are Shiites, Sunnis, and so on in Yemen. You do know that al-Qaeda is very active. Other terrorist groups are very active.
But since the entrance of Saudi Arabia on the Yemeni scene, the start of the aerial bombardments and the attacks, of course that widened the gap between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Given the proper conditions, we can indeed resolve our problems with Saudi Arabia. I do not myself believe that the distance created between Iran and Saudi Arabia benefits either side, or anyone in the region or anyone in the world.
It has come to be known [erroneously] throughout the world that the Saudi government carries the mantle for the Sunnis of the world, while Iran is the protector of the Shiites of the world--therefore there are two poles that were naturally destined to collide. That is not a fact. Sunnis and Shiites must come closer together, because all faiths and religions must come closer together. All tribes and ethnic backgrounds must come closer together. I do not believe that the differences and the gaps between faiths, religions, tribes, or ethnic backgrounds benefit, or ever have benefitted, anyone.
If we can change the dynamics and establish good relations between us and Saudi Arabia it will certainly benefit everyone involved. These days, though, it is important to keep in mind that our conditions have become much tougher, because a number of our pilgrims to Hajj were killed in Mina. Thus far 170 Iranian pilgrims have been killed. Dear lives, precious lives, lost.
This lack of proper management, responsible management, of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is extremely sad. We do not know all of the underlying causes, the root causes, so we do not want to pass judgement. But the Saudi Arabian government has made itself quite occupied and concerned elsewhere – Syria, Yemen, the region as whole – and it seems to have forgotten Mecca itself, how to manage it. It seems to have forgotten Mina. It seems to have forgotten the millions of pilgrims that every year go to their country.
Apparently, we Muslims were supposed to have at least a single holy month out of the year in which no fighting would take place. It has taken place. The conditions in Yemen continue. The aerial bombardments continue throughout Ramadan, which is something that is sacrosanct for all of us Muslims. So the conditions have become tougher. But this is absolutely correct that differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia must, at a point in time, be resolved. We must not think about rivalries, competitions which will not end up benefitting anyone.
About Yemen: Yemen, we see the resolution of its problem only to be realized through a Yemeni-to-Yemeni dialogue and negotiation. We say that the Houthis and the opposing groups must sit down around the same table, reach a mutually beneficial conclusion. And all of us are ready to do anything and everything at our disposal to bring this about quicker…
A humanitarian tragedy is taking place on a daily basis in Yemen. A crisis is ever deepening on a daily basis as well in Yemen. They’re living under very tough conditions every day. And it would be everyone’s humanitarian duty to help Yemen through international organizations – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, or any other organization – that can safely and swiftly render that aid. But ultimately we don’t see the resolution of the Yemeni problem as through war. And, mind you, we do not see a complete government control by the Houthis in Yemen as the best solution either. Everyone must have an inclusive role in managing the affairs of the country and everyone must be equally represented, ultimately only to be obtained through Yemeni to Yemeni dialogue and negotiation.

Photo credit: Robin Wright

Rouhani at UN: On Nuclear Deal, Extremism

On September 28, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the nuclear deal as a potential model for positive change in the Middle East. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Rouhani also warned that the gravest threat to the world is for terrorist organizations to become terrorist states. Rouhani invited the world’s nations to create a “United Front Against Extremism and Violence” to combat the underlying social and economic issues that allow terrorist organizations to gain followers. He emphasized the need for economic development for lasting peace in the region. The following is a translation of his prepared remarks provided by Iran’s Mission to the United Nations.

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Praise be to Allah, and peace and greetings to Prophet Mohammad and his true companions

Mr. President
I am speaking on behalf of a great nation who is mourning the loss of thousands of Muslim pilgrims and hundreds of its citizens. Old, young, men and women who had come together in the grand and global spiritual gathering of the Hajj, but unfortunately fell victim to the incompetence and mismanagement of those in charge. Due to their unaccountability, even the missing cannot be identified and the expeditious return of the bodies of the deceased to their mourning families has been prevented. The scope of a calamity in which thousands of innocent people from the four corners of the world have been killed and wounded is so broad that it cannot be dealt with as a natural disaster or a local issue. The pain and emotional distress inflicted on millions of Muslims is greater than what can be repaired merely through material calculations. Public opinion demands that Saudi Arabian officials promptly fulfill their international obligations and grant immediate consular access for the expeditious identification and return of the cherished bodies. Moreover, it is necessary that the conditions are prepared for an independent and precise investigation into the causes of this disaster and ways of preventing its repetition in the future.
Mr. President
Distinguished Secretary-General
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am speaking on behalf of a nation that, two years ago, again voted for constructive engagement with the world and I can now proudly announce that "today, a new chapter has started in Iran’s relations with the world."
Two years ago, the people of Iran in a competitive election, with their votes gave me a mandate for consolidating peace and constructive engagement with the world—whilst pursuing national rights, interests and security. This national will, manifested itself through a careful and clear diplomatic effort which resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the six world powers that was immediately turned into an international instrument with the ratification of the United Nations Security Council. From the standpoint of international law, this instrument sets a strong precedent where, for the first time, two sides rather than negotiating peace after war, engaged in dialogue and understanding before the eruption of conflict.
At this point, I deem it necessary to recognize the role of all the negotiators, in achieving this agreement. We had decided to bring about a new environment while maintaining our principles and we succeeded in doing so. Where necessary we moved forward and where necessary we showed the courage for flexibility; and, at each point, we made use of the full capacity of international law and showcased the potentials of constructive dialogue. The key point regarding the success of dialogue is the fact that any actor in the international system who pursues maximalist demands and does not allow space for the other side cannot speak of peace, stability and development. As in commerce and economic activity, where the interests of both parties should be taken into account, in politics and international relations as well multilateralism and win-win solutions should be the basis of engagement.
Mr. President,
The United Nations was established to sustain global peace and security after two world wars. But unfortunately, it must be said that in most cases this important international institution has not been successful or effective. This time, however, the United Nations made the right decision.
Though, we protest the adoption of unfair resolutions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the imposition of sanctions against the Iranian nation and government as a result of misunderstandings and sometimes overt hostilities of some countries, however, we believe, as an old Iranian saying goes, "the sooner you stop harm, the more benefit you will reap". Today, is the very day that harm is stopped.  
Security Council Resolution 2231, despite some significant shortcomings, was an important development and the basis for terminating sanctions imposing resolutions against Iran. We consider as unfair the conduct of the Security Council in the past and insist that Iran, due to the important fatwa of its leader and its defense doctrine, has never had the intention of producing a nuclear weapon and, therefore, sanctions resolutions against Iran were unjust and illegal. Sanctions by the Security Council and unilateral sanctions by some countries were based on illusive and baseless allegations and created difficult conditions for our people. But these sanctions never in any way affected the policy we adopted and the approach we took towards negotiations. We proved in these negotiations that there is nothing on Iran's table other than logic, reason and ethics, and where necessary, legitimate and decisive self-defense against any kind of aggression. The United States finally was compelled to forgo its policy of pressure and sanction and opt for the negotiating table. 
Our seven countries and the European Union expended considerable time and diplomatic capital in these negotiations and, therefore, they should exert their utmost effort to protect and implement the agreement. We deem the compliance of all parties with their commitments as the fundamental factor in the success of the implementation process of the negotiations.   
Parallel to the implementation of the JCPOA, we also expect the nuclear-weapon states to take necessary steps to fulfill their commitment of full nuclear disarmament based on Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Furthermore, we expect them to play a positive role in the creation of a “nuclear weapons-free Middle East” and not to allow the Zionist regime to remain the only impediment in the way of realizing this important initiative.  
Mr. President,
The nuclear deal, which is a brilliant example of "victory over war", has managed to disburse the clouds of hostility and perhaps even the specter of another war and extensive tensions from the Middle East. The deal can and should herald a new era and lead to positive outcomes regarding the establishment of sustainable peace and stability in the region. From our point of view, the agreed-upon deal is not the final objective but a development which can and should be the basis of further achievements to come. Considering the fact that this deal has created an objective basis and set an appropriate model, it can serve as a basis for foundational change in the region.
Our policy is to continue our peace-seeking efforts in the region based on the same win-win principle, and act in a way that would lead to all in the region and world benefitting from these new conditions. This opportunity can be seized in order to look to the future and avoid focusing on the past and rebuild our relationships with the countries in the region, particularly with our neighbors, based on mutual respect and our common and collective interests.
Unfortunately, the Middle East and North Africa has turned into one of the world's most turbulent regions. With the continuation and intensification of the current condition, the turmoil can spread to other parts of the world. In today's interconnected and borderless world, countries and regions encounter great difficulty in protecting their borders and preventing the spread of insecurity and instability.
The gravest and most important threat to the world today is for terrorist organizations to become terrorist states. We consider it unfortunate for national uprisings in our region to be deviated by terrorists and for the destiny of nations to be determined by arms and terror rather than ballot boxes.
We propose that the fight against terrorism be incorporated into a binding international document and no country be allowed to use terrorism for the purpose of intervention in the affairs of other countries. We are prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and in paving the way for democracy, and ensuring that arms do not dictate the course of event in the region. As we aided the establishment of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and also Yemen. We support the consolidation of power through the vote of people rather than with arms. We defend the rule of the majority that respects the rights of minorities.
Today, while safeguarding its historic and cultural heritage, Iran is looking to the future —not only the distant future but also the near future with a bright outlook for cooperation and coexistence. I say to all nations and governments: we will not forget the past, but we do not wish to live in the past. We will not forget war and sanctions but we look to peace and development. Through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we were not solely seeking a nuclear deal. We want to suggest a new and constructive way to recreate the international order. An order based on mutual respect, non-intervention in the internal affairs of others as well as on sustained cooperation and co-existence between the members of the United Nations. To build a peaceful future, we must learn our lessons from the bitter past. We know that the only way to perpetuate peace is through development. Peace without development is merely a recess while resentment and suspicion builds. However, peace alongside development lets anger and resentment dissipate and be replaced with hope and respect for others. We have repeatedly said that the only way to uproot terrorism in the Middle East is by targeting its underlying social, economic and cultural causes.
Economic interactions may bring about lasting security, and transform the region into a haven for peace and development. After the JCPOA, Iran will stand ready to show that the practical path to security and stability is through the development that comes with economic engagement.
Iran, with all of its economic and cultural potential, is well positioned to become a hub for export-oriented investment. Iran is also eager to show that we can all choose a lasting peace based on development and shared interests that will lead to a sustainable security rather than a volatile peace based on threats.
We hope to engage with our neighbors in a wide range of social and economic cooperation, which will enable the achievement of political understanding and even foster structural security cooperation. In the international system today, mutual economic ties are deemed the foremost factors in facilitating political cooperation and reducing security-related challenges.
Mr. President,
In 2013, from this very stage, I called for combating violence and extremism. Consequently, you, the representatives of the international community, unanimously gave it a seal of endorsement and hence, the WAVE resolution came to be. The implementation of WAVE requires well-intended solutions and the use of experiences gained in the realm of diplomacy. I am pleased that by placing together the support for the JCPOA with the invaluable support for WAVE, we may now devise a plan to resolve the problems of a shattered Middle East under the claws of brutality and savagery.
With a view to fighting ignorance, dictatorship, poverty, corruption, terrorism, violence and their social, political, cultural, economic and security impacts, I would like to invite the whole world and especially the countries of my region to form a ‘joint comprehensive plan of action’ to create a "United Front Against Extremism and Violence".
This front must:
- Create a collective and global movement to tackle regional problems in a serious manner through dialogue;
-  Prevent the slaughter of innocent people and the bombardment of civilians, as well as, the promotion of violence and killing of other human beings;
-  Provide for stability in cooperation with established central governments to maintain stability  
-  And once stability is established, build diplomacy and democratic governance in the Middle East region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Iraq, Syria and Yemen are all examples of crises being stoked through terror, extremism, violence, bloodshed, invasion and the indifference of the international community. They are similar examples displaying cases of displacement, homelessness and fleeing from the horrors of war and bombardment. Their problems have persisted because the international community has failed them and because of incorrect actions of newcomers to the region and naive trans-regional actors. Consequently, the wave of destruction has gone beyond the Arab world and reached the gates of Europe and the United States and has resulted in the destruction of the relics of civility and precious works of ancient civilizations and, more broadly, has resulted in the death of humanity.
We must not forget that the roots of today’s wars, destruction and terror, can be found in the occupation, invasion and military intervention of yesterday. If we did not have the US military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the US’s unwarranted support for the inhumane actions of the Zionist regime against the oppressed nation of Palestine, today the terrorists would not have an excuse for the justification of their crimes. It is imperative that the United States abandons its practice of reversing facts in the region and leveling baseless accusations against others and put an end to its dangerous policies and that of its regional allies that has exacerbated extremism and sectarianism in the region. The US should move in the direction of the hopes and aspirations of the people of the region.  
Mr. President,
Despite the many problems in our region today, we believe in a promising future. We have no doubt we can overcome the obstacles by wisdom and prudence as well as by the use of new and powerful capacities, and by relying upon our civilizational roots and our serious resolve. We, in light of divine revelation, have faith in humanity’s bright future in which people live in peace, tranquility and spirituality. We believe in the will of nations to pick the path of goodness and purity. We believe that ultimate victory will be won by those with good-natured piety. 
Thank you for your attention.


Obama at UNGA : On Iran, Syria Peace

On September 28, President Barack Obama said that the nuclear deal with Iran will make the world safer if fully implemented. But he also noted that Tehran’s support for “violent proxies” is detrimental to the Middle East’s security and that Iran's policies are preventing its citizens from unlocking their potential. On Syria, Obama stated that that the United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Iran and Russia, to resolve the conflict. But he emphasized that a return to the pre-war status quo, especially after so much bloodshed, is not a viable option. The following are excerpted remarks from his address.

As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning.  I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.  We cannot look backwards.  We live in an integrated world -- one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success.  We cannot turn those forces of integration.  No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet.  The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology.  And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.  That is true for the United States, as well. 


No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.  In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.  Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed.  And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary. 

Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed.  The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow.  You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas.  You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.  It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed. 
Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory.   Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials.  The strength of nations depends on the success of their people -- their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity -- and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.  Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation. 
A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed.  And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure.  Our world has been there before.  We gain nothing from going back.
Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time.  We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears.  This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict.  And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.
Let me give you a concrete example.  After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body -- the nuclear non-proliferation regime -- was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT.  On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them.  Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.
But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran.  Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful.  For two years, the United States and our partners -- including Russia, including China -- stuck together in complex negotiations.  The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy.  And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer.  That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.
Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations.  Look around the world.  From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders. 
That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests.  These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce.  The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential.  But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure.  If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.
Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters.  Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.
Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria.  When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs -- it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.  Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem -- that is an assault on all humanity.
I’ve said before and I will repeat:  There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them.  We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes.  And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists. 
But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.  Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully.  The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo. 
Let’s remember how this started.  Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.  And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing.  Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL.  But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild. 
We know that ISIL -- which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria -- depends on perpetual war to survive.  But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology.  So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people.  Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror.  (Applause.)   
This work will take time.  There are no easy answers to Syria.  And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa.  But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time.  And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders.  That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well -- because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.
Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter.  They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns.  Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest.  For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security.  And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.
And finally, our vision for the future of this Assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backwards, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise:  Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend.  (Applause.)  
I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world.  The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences.  But some universal truths are self-evident.  No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship.  No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school.  The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws -- these are not ideas of one country or one culture.  They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution. 
I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear.  (Applause.)  History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone. 
The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told.  They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate -- but they can also respond to hope.  History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case.  You can count on that.  But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership -- leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.

Kerry, Zarif Discuss Nuclear Deal in NY

On September 26, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the implementation of the nuclear deal with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. The meeting in New York City on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly was their first since the agreement was announced in July. Before the meeting, Kerry told reporters that he saw an opportunity for progress on resolving the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts while Zarif said the focus of the meeting would be on the nuclear deal. The next day, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham rejected reports about the two discussing regional issues. The following is a transcript of Kerry and Zarif’s remarks to the press before their meeting.

QUESTION: Minister Zarif, could you conceive of cooperating on Syria with the United States if the United States insists on Assad going eventually? And Secretary Kerry, are you going to raise the possibility of prisoner exchange for the U.S. citizens detained in Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, this is the first time the foreign minister and I have been meeting since Vienna, and I want to congratulate all the work that has been done by everybody to try to continue to move the process and keep it on track.

Secondly, we have a lot of issues to talk about. I’m not going to go into each of them individually right now. But I view this week as a major opportunity for any number of countries to play an important role in trying to resolve some of the very difficult issues of the Middle East. We need to achieve peace and a way forward in Syria, in Yemen, in the region itself. And I think there are opportunities this week through these discussions to make some progress. So I don’t want to predict anything; I don’t want to get specific about what issue may or may not be discussed. We always talk about American citizens with respect to their detainment in any part of the world, and so you can count on the fact that we will have a discussion.

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: But we are going to concentrate in this meeting on the full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is the project that we started together, and we hope that by its full implementation – its good-faith implementation – we can vent some of the mistrust that has existed over the past many decades. So that is my priority, but the situation in the region, the unfortunate developments in Saudi Arabia over the last week, have been disastrous, and we need to address them. We will address them in the proper (inaudible).

Rouhani CBS Interview on Nuclear Deal, US

Iran and the United States have “taken the first steps” toward decreasing enmity by negotiating the nuclear deal announced in July, President Hassan Rouhani told CBS in an interview. But he emphasized that establishing trust between Tehran and Washington would take a long time given decades-long tensions. Rouhani also said there were no plans for him to meet President Barack Obama later in September during the U.N. General Assembly opening in New York. “I think many more steps should be taken in order to reach this stage,” he said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on September 20. The following is a partial transcript of the interview from Rouhani’s official website.  


President Hassan Rouhani: I am very pleased of this opportunity in order to have a chat together regarding issues which are important for all of us today on the current situations around the world and of curse for our region and the whole world it is significant, I think peace, security and stability are the most important goals that if the region and the world have them then it will pave the ground for progress and development and of curse which are to the benefit of all humanity.
Steve Kroft: What do you think of the [nuclear] agreement?

Rouhani: It was a very difficult agreement it had a lot of complexities and usually in negotiations where there are seven countries and representatives of seven countries are negotiating on issues which are significant to both parties that the negotiations will finally be successful it is not that much simple but I have never been pessimistic about the success of these negotiations.
The first successful step we made in the agreement of Geneva it meant that of curse this way even though it is difficult but it is the right part we have selected and it can get us closer to our goals and today I am pleased that very important steps we have made and we are making the final steps.
Rouhani: The same agreement is very important of occurs in a very important issues that one of parties of two negotiating I means Iran was in fact doing something for its development it was necessary for development of Iran and the other side was pessimistic about the same goal the other side was seeking and it was feeling it may be afraid to the peace and security therefore the distance was very big between the two sides and of course the achievement of understanding and agreement in principles means a big successful for the two parties. And what we gained in fact were the goals we were seeking right from the beginning and that was without problem we should be able to have our peaceful activity, sanctions should be lifted and oppressive resolutions against Iran should be lifted.
Kroft: Were you surprised by the ferocity of the debate in the United States and the outcome?
Rouhani: It was predictable. An issue of this significance cannot be resolved without its opponents. One is surprised by the commentaries and the commentaries are not very pleasant. Some groups and political parties may be against it, but the governments of the world, all together, welcomed this deal.

Kroft: Opponents have argued that U.S. has given away too much for very little in return from Iran. Agreeing to lift the sanctions on Iran in exchange for, what they call, a temporary 15-year freeze on nuclear operations after which Iran would be free to resume or begin work on a nuclear bomb with far more resources than they have now.

Rouhani: If a country wanted, with the technical resources it has, to gain an atomic bomb, this deal would have been a very bad deal for it. Because the deal creates limitations from all sides to getting an atomic bomb, But if a country has been after peaceful technology from the beginning, then it has lost nothing. We wanted this incorrect accusation that Iran is after nuclear weapons corrected and resolved and that the goal of Iran is peaceful activity. In this deal, we have accepted limitations for a period of time in order to create more trust with the world.
Kroft: The United States seems to have its hardliners and Iran seems to have its hardliners. Do you see similarities between the United States and Iran in terms of the opposition to this?

Rouhani: There are similarities. It's natural that opponents always look for the maximum possible outcome. In an agreement, neither achieves the maximum. Both sides must always concede a little bit from the maximum to get an agreement. Therefore, the person who seeks the maximum complains. The result of this agreement benefits everyone, benefits both sides, because we have been able to reach an understanding, an agreement, on a very complicated issue at the negotiating table and be able to prevent misunderstandings, and take the first step towards trust. Of course, for reaching trust between the U.S. and Iran, there is need for a lot of time.

Kroft: Some of the opponents are very powerful. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards, for example, has condemned the deal. How do you deal with that? That's an important political force in this country.

Rouhani: It's clear that some will be opposed...some will be in favor, will express their opinions, but at the same time after the agreement is approved by the responsible institutions, everyone will comply with that. The Revolutionary Guards also, when the deal is approved by responsible institutions, they, too, will respect this agreement.

Kroft: some of the success has been undercut by very harsh statements from both sides. Since the deal, Ayatollah Khamanei has endorsed, even praised, the chanting of 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel' he continues to call the United States the 'great Satan.' Do you believe the United States is the 'great Satan?'

Rouhani: The enmity that existed between the United States and Iran over the decades, the distance, the disagreements, the lack of trust, will not go away soon. What's important is which direction we are heading? Are we heading towards amplifying the enmity or decreasing this enmity? I believe we have taken the first steps towards decreasing this enmity.

Kroft: Do you think the United States is the 'great Satan?'

Rouhani: Satan in our religious parlance is used to refer to that power that tricks others and whose words are not clear words, do not match reality. What I can say is that the U.S. has made many mistakes in the past regarding Iran, and must make up for those mistakes.
Kroft: I'm sure you realize that it is difficult for many Americans to get past the fact that President Obama has signed an agreement with a country that says, 'Death to America, Death to Israel.' How do you explain this? What are they to make of it? Are they to take it literally? Is this for domestic, internal Iranian political consumption? What are Americans to make of it, the language?
Rouhani: This slogan that is chanted is not a slogan against the American people. Our people respect the American people. The Iranian people are not looking for war with any country. But at the same time the policies of the United States have been against the national interests of Iranian people. It's understandable that people will demonstrate sensitivity to this issue. When the people rose up against the Shah, the United States aggressively supported the Shah until the last moments. In the eight-year war with Iraq, the Americans supported Saddam. People will not forget these things. We cannot forget the past, but at the same time our gaze must be towards the future.

Kroft: 'Death to America' is very simple concept. Three words, not much room left for interpretation. Not very conciliatory, do you see the day when that language will not be used? You yourself have encouraged both sides to try and lower the temperature.

Rouhani: If America puts the enmity aside, if it initiates good will, and if it compensates for the past, the future situation between the United States and Iran will change.

Kroft: The United States has just signed an agreement with Iran to lift the sanctions, is that not a sign of goodwill?
Rouhani: It hasn't been implemented yet...the lifting of the sanctions must be initiated.
Steve Kroft: Do you think the level of trust between Iran and the United States has improved because of this treaty?

Rouhani: Relative to the past, it's improved. But this does not mean that all disagreements are resolved, or all the distrust removed, in one case, on one issue, yes, we have managed to overcome the problem.

Kroft: There has been speculation and hope both inside and outside of Iran and in the United States that this nuclear deal could be a catalyst for some broader, if limited, cooperation between the two countries where there are mutual interests.

Rouhani: Many areas exist where in those areas it's possible that common goals, or common interests, may exist. But what is important is that in the nuclear agreement, we see how the two sides behave in action. Enacting this deal in a good way will create a new environment.

Kroft: You have said that you are willing to sit down with any country, friend or enemy, to discuss the situation in Syria in order to stop the bloodshed. What does Iran see as a possible, workable, acceptable solution to the situation in Syria?

Rouhani: Look, in a county where a large segment of the country has been occupied by terrorists, and there is bloodshed inside the country, millions of people have been displaced, how is it possible that we fight the terrorists of this country without supporting and helping the government of that country? How can we fight the terrorists without the government staying? Of course, after we have fought terrorism and a secure environment is created, then it is time to talk about the constitution, or the future regime to talk and discuss opposition groups and supporters sit at the table, but during a situation of bloodshed and during an occupation of the country, what options exist?

Kroft: This agreement was a big political victory for you personally. You were elected president based on the idea that you wanted to open up Iran to the outside world that you wanted to get the sanctions lifted, that you wanted to bring prosperity back to the country, so Iran can take its place among the great nations of the world and not be isolated. There are still some things in that agenda those are still unfulfilled: freedom of speech, more access to the Internet and personal freedoms.

Rouhani: I think relative to the two years I've been in office, I have been successful - not 100 percent of course, but successful. Our relations with other countries have improved. There is more freedom at the universities, lively debates and greater freedom of the press, compared to the past. Of course, there are some issues that are not in control of the government.

Kroft: As we sit here speak the-- right now, there is a dual American/Iranian citizen, a journalist for the Washington Post, Jason Rezaian, in prison for more than a year on unspecified charges. There has been talk among leaders in the last few weeks that there might be a prisoner exchange. Is there anything you can say to clarify the situation?

Rouhani: We have Iranians who are imprisoned in the United States, Iranians who are being pursued and most of them are being pursued for circumventing the sanctions. And, you know, that from the beginning we considered the sanctions to be wrong, and we encouraged everyone to circumvent them. We consider all those prisoners to be innocent, and consider it wrong that they are in prison.

Kroft: Would you support a prisoner exchange?

Rouhani: I don't particularly like the word exchange, but from a humanitarian perspective, if we can take a step, we must do it. The American side must take its own steps.

Rouhani: As you know, in Iran, we are transferring the economy step by step to the private, nongovernmental sector. Our private sector and the American private sector can improve the environment. Actually, it will strengthen the nuclear agreement, even tourism, if the people of the United States come to Iran and see its ancient history and nature of Iran, and the people of Iran go to the United States to see America, this can shorten the walls of mistrust and improve the situation for the future.
Kroft: Do you plan to meet with the president Obama when you come to New York next week?
Rouhani: We have no plan for this visit; I think many more steps should be taken in order to reach this stage.
Kroft: What about telephone?
Rouhani: There was no need to do a phone call, there was once a need and then President Obama called me and we talked over the phone.

Click here for a partial transcript from CBS.
Click here for a partial transcript from Rouhani’s office.

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