Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that Iran was ready for "serious" talks on its nuclear program without delay and that U.S. calls for tougher sanctions showed a lack of understanding.
Addressing his first news conference since taking office on Saturday, Rouhani said, according to the AFP news agency, that he would not surrender Iran's rights but that he wanted to allay Western concerns.
"As the president of the Islamic republic, I am announcing that there is the political will to solve this issue and also take into consideration the concerns of the other sides," he said.
"We are the people of interaction and talks, with seriousness and without wasting time, if the other sides are ready."
Rouhani headed Iran's nuclear negotiating team under reformist president Mohammad Khatami in the early 2000s and Western leaders have expressed hope of a more constructive approach in the protracted talks.
The hardline policies of his firebrand predecessor as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prompted crippling EU and U.S. sanctions against Iran's oil and banking sectors that he has vowed to seek to relax.
Rouhani said there could be no surrender of the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy that Iran claims under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"Iran's peaceful nuclear program is a national issue... we will not give up the rights of the Iranian people," he said, according to AFP.
"We will preserve our rights based on the international regulations."
He said Iran would not give up uranium enrichment -- the sensitive nuclear activity at the heart of Western concerns which Iran suspended when Rouhani was chief negotiator a decade ago.
"In Iran, nobody has said we will give up uranium enrichment, no one and at no time," he said.
Rouhani also reiterated his insistence that Iran would not negotiate under the threat of economic sanctions or military action.
He hit out at "contradictory messages" from Washington, with the White House saying that it would be a "willing partner" in genuine talks, but the U.S. Senate urging tougher sanctions.
"Recent declarations from the White House show that some U.S. officials do not have a correct and realistic assessment of the situation here and the message that the Iranian people gave in the election," Rouhani said, according to AFP.
"They are still sending contradictory messages," he said, adding, "We care about the U.S. response in deeds, not in words."
On Sunday, the White House said Iran would find the United States a "willing partner" if Rouhani is prepared to engage substantively and seriously on its nuclear program.
Rouhani took particular issue with a letter signed by 76 U.S. Senators -- more than three-quarters of the total -- calling for tougher U.S. sanctions, even as he promised more constructive engagement.
He charged that the letter was the work of a "foreign country" and its supporters in the United States, a clear allusion to Israel.
"The interests of a foreign country and the will of a certain group have been imposed on U.S. lawmakers, which does not serve the interests of the United States," he declared.
Russia too strongly criticized the U.S. senators' sanctions call, saying that it was in the interests of the whole world to respond positively to Rouhani's talks offer.
"I think these ideas contradict the fundamental interests of the international community," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of the letter.
"These are dangerous games and we hope reason will prevail," he added, according to AFP.
Lavrov said it was "extremely important" for the major powers to support the new approach from the Iranian leadership and to hold fresh talks as soon as possible.
Last week shortly before Congress went on summer break, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved harsh new sanctions aimed at drastically reducing Iran's oil exports by ending purchasing exemptions to countries like China and Japan.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear program was to keep up the pressure on its leadership.
Speaking with a delegation of 36 U.S. Congress members who are visiting Israel, Netanyahu said, “Iran's president said that pressure will not help to dissuade him from developing nuclear weapons. But we see that over the past two decades, the only thing that has helped has been pressure.”
“I have said it before, and I will say it again, because it's important that it be understood. If the pressure on Iran is lifted, it will go ahead with developing nuclear weapons,” warned Netanyahu.