WASHINGTON Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged world leaders on Thursday to "seize the opportunity" presented by his election to engage Iran in constructive dialogue and said his country was ready to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Thursday in advance of the U.N. General Assembly annual meeting next week, the centrist cleric said nations needed to seek "win-win outcomes" instead of using "brute force" to combat terrorism, extremism, cybercrime and other challenges.
"Gone is the age of blood feuds," he wrote. "World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities."
The piece appeared to be Rouhani's latest signal that he plans to pursue a thaw in relations with the United States and other Western nations, which believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons and have imposed economic sanctions that have damaged Iran's economy.
Rouhani said in an interview with an American television network this week that his country would never develop nuclear weapons. In the Post, he referred to Iran's "peaceful nuclear energy program" and made no suggestion of giving it up.
"To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world," he wrote.
Acknowledging a change in tone from Iran since the cleric's election in June, the White House said on Thursday that President Barack Obama might meet with Rouhani in New York next week.
"A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone's loss," Rouhani wrote in the Post. "Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches. Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences."
Rouhani said the people of the Middle East should be allowed to decide their own fate. He said he was ready to help in Syria, where government forces and rebels have fought a civil war for 2 1/2 years. Iran has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with weapons and other military aid.
"I announce my government's readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition," Rouhani wrote.
He said Iranians had embraced his pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.
"As I depart for New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, I urge my counterparts to seize the opportunity presented by Iran's recent election. I urge them to make the most of the mandate for prudent engagement that my people have given me and to respond genuinely to my government's efforts to engage in constructive dialogue."
(Writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Peter Cooney)