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Iran is ready to enter 'serious and substantive' nuke talks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Tehran on Tuesday.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Tehran on Tuesday.Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA

TEHRAN – Iran’s new president said the country was determined to resolve the nuclear disagreement with the U.S. and the West and was ready to enter “serious and substantive'' negotiations.

In his first newsconference since taking the oath of office Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani defended Iran’s nuclear program and was critical of U.S. and Western economic sanctions.

Asked by NBC News if a new round of economic sanctions against Iran passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week would complicate negotiations, Rouhani criticized the U.S. for sending both conciliatory and bellicose messages.

"The United States has sent conflicting messages in the way it acts. What they say and do differs,” said Rouhani. "It is important that America responds in practice – not just talk."

Iran is under U.N. sanctions and unilateral Western oil and banking sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to build nuclear weapons. Iran says the program is aimed at generating electricity and producing treatments for cancer patients.

Rouhani said Iran would not abandon its nuclear program, but rather that would continue under the terms of the non-proliferation treaty.   

"We will not do away with the right of the nation,” he said. 

“However, we are for negotiations and interaction. We are prepared, seriously and without wasting time, to enter negotiations which are serious and substantive with the other side.''

“If the other party is also prepared like we are, then I am confident that the concerns of both sides will be removed through negotiations within a period which will not be very long.''

Rouhani was very careful with his words during the news conference, pausing before he would answer questions. For instance, he was clear to say he was “neither optimistic, nor pessimistic” about future nuclear negotiations.

Despite the conciliatory tone, Rouhani made an apparent reference to Israel, though never directly mentioning the Jewish country by name. He said the U.S. Congress “follows the welfare of one foreign country and takes orders from them. The interests of this foreign country and certain groups are imposed on Congress and it does not serve the interests of the American people, but of another country.”

Rouhani was heckled by some of the Iranian media for answering questions posed to him by American reporters – even though only four American journalists asked questions and the rest of the journalists asking questions were all Iranian. 

Hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear impasse have risen with Rouhani's win over conservative rivals in June, when voters replaced the former president hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The White House indicated that it hoped that nuclear tensions would ease under Rouhani, the country’s former nuclear negotiator.

“The inauguration of President Rouhani presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” according to a statement put out by the White House.  “Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States.”

Last week, however, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed new restrictions on Iran's oil sector and its mining and construction industries. Senators are expected to take up the same package in September.

Iran's critics say that it has used previous nuclear negotiations as a delaying tactic while continuing to develop nuclear weapons-related technology.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that “the ball is in their court” for the Iranians to take credible actions.