Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke yesterday at an event sponsored by the New America Foundation at the New York Hilton. The event was well attended and the audience included many journalists, although only New America board member Fareed Zakaria had the opportunity to ask Rouhani questions.
Rouhani began his prepared remarks by noting that he used to run the Center for Strategic Research and called for more interaction between U.S. and Iranian think tanks. He then turned to the Middle East, where the forces of the Islamic State group—which Rouhani, through his translator, described variously as extremists, terrorists, or using the Arabic acronym “Daesh”—represent a threat both to Western and Iranian interests. In the face of this threat, Rouhani stressed the need for cooperation. He called out unspecified “pressure groups” for working to introduce new crises into the U.S.-Iranian relationship, even as both countries attempt to reach a nuclear deal and contain the Islamic State group. Rouhani also condemned the “illegal” and “inhumane” sanctions the U.S. and other countries have imposed on Iran.
Referring to the P5+1 talks in Geneva last November, which produced an interim agreement on freezing Iran’s nuclear program, Rouhani expressed cautious optimism. More important than any specifics in the agreement was the commitment to open dialogue and conflict resolution, he said, adding that the Iranian people, by electing him with a mandate for reform last year, had created a unique opportunity to improve relations that must not be wasted.