In what may have been the most widely awaited speech at the United Nations, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, preached tolerance and understanding on Tuesday, decried as a form of violence the Western sanctions imposed on his country and said nuclear weapons had no place in its future.
Mr. Rouhani, whose speech followed President Obama’s by more than six hours, also acknowledged Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran aimed at resolving more than three decades of estrangement and recrimination, and expressed hope that “we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.”
But the Iranian leader also asserted that the “shortsighted interests of warmongering pressure groups” in the United States had resulted in an inconsistent American message on the nuclear dispute and other issues.
Mr. Rouhani restated Iran’s insistence that it would never pursue nuclear weapons in its uranium enrichment program, saying, “this will always be the position of Iran.”
But he offered no specific proposals to reach a compromise on the nuclear dispute, which has led to Iran’s severe economic isolation because of Western sanctions that have impaired its oil, banking and manufacturing base.
The sanctions, he said, are “violent, pure and simple.”
The speech by Mr. Rouhani, a moderate cleric who is close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appeared partly aimed at his own domestic audience and was his most prominent opportunity to explain his views, following his election in June. His ascent came after eight years of pugnacious saber-rattling by his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly railed against the United States and Israel, questioned the Holocaust and provoked annual walkouts by diplomats at his General Assembly speeches.
There was no such mass walkout this time.
“We believe there are no violent solutions to world crises,” Mr. Rouhani said.
Mr. Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations has been widely anticipated for any signs of the moderation and pragmatism that he said his administration was bringing to Iran. But his speech still provoked skepticism and criticism.
Thousands of anti-Rouhani demonstrators rallied outside the United Nations headquarters, including members and sympathizers of the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian dissident group that is banned in Iran and was removed from a State Department terrorist group list last year after an aggressive lobbying effort in Washington.
Pro-Israel lawmakers and interest groups criticized Mr. Rouhani’s speech as lacking specifics and echoing the themes Mr. Ahmadinejad had espoused. “Those who expected a dramatic departure are disappointed,” said Gary Samore, the president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based group that has advocated for strong sanctions against the country. “This address was surprisingly similar to what we are used to hearing from Iran, both in tone and substance.”
Mr. Rouhani never once mentioned Israel by name in his speech, although he did speak to what he called the violence perpetrated on the Palestinians. “Palestine is under occupation,” he said. “The basic rights of Palestinians are tragically violated.”
Israeli leaders, who have called Iran an existential threat to Israel, have publicly criticized Mr. Rouhani as no different from others in the Iranian government.
In a generic reference to Iran’s critics, Mr. Rouhani said they had established what he called “propagandistic and unfounded faith-phobic, Islamo-phobic, Shia-phobic and Iran-phobic discourses,” which he said posed “serious threats against world peace and human security.”
Those who malign Iran, Mr. Rouhani said, “are either a threat against international peace and security themselves or promote such a threat.”
“Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region,” he said.
He concluded his speech with a reference to both the diversity and unity of religions in their affirmation of peace and tolerance.
“My hope, aside from personal and national experience, emanates from the belief shared by all divine religions that a good and bright future awaits the world,” he said. “As stated in the Holy Koran: ‘And We proclaimed in the Psalms, after We had proclaimed in the Torah, that My virtuous servants will inherit the earth.’”