Iran will never develop nuclear weapons, President Hassan Rouhani vowed Wednesday in his first U.S. media interview since his inauguration last month.
Rouhani also said in the interview in Tehran with NBC News international correspondent Ann Curry that he has the authority to cut a deal with the United States and other Western countries to allay their fear that Tehran’s uranium enrichment activity is aimed at creating weapons-grade fuel for a nuclear bomb.
Rouhani told NBC in the interview, scheduled to air at 6:30 p.m., that President Obama had written to him to congratulate him on his June 14 election and to raise “some issues.”
“From my point of view, the tone of the letter was positive and constructive,” Rouhani said, according to an NBC News advance report on the broadcast. “It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future.”
Since taking office Aug. 3, Rouhani and his new Cabinet members have been sending tentative signals of willingness to improve relations with the West and ease social strictures and economic woes besetting Iranians who have been under U.S. sanctions for years because of the disputed nuclear program.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said that nuclear weapons development would conflict with Islamic values. He joined the chorus of voices professing willingness to compromise Tuesday when he advocated “heroic flexibility” in Tehran’s negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency and six world powers demanding an end to Iranian uranium enrichment.
The Iranian president is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly next week in New York, and Iranians eager to escape their international isolation have expressed the hope that Rouhani or a senior figure in his entourage will meet with U.S. counterparts on the sidelines of the annual gathering.
Earlier Wednesday, Iranian authorities released a prominent human rights lawyer and at least 10 other political prisoners who had been held for purported antigovernment activities after the disputed 2009 presidential election that kept Rouhani’s combative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in power for another four years.
No explanation was offered for the early release of Nasrin Sotoudeh or the other jailed activists. Some political analysts saw the releases as a positive sign that Rouhani is following through on his pledge of more moderate governance.
Rouhani and some Cabinet members have begun communicating with Iranians and the outside world via Facebook and Twitter, and a brief lapse in censorship of social media Monday was seen by some as a test of whether the government interference in Iranian communications and expression could be relaxed.