Long Way Ahead Before Normal US Ties

Long Way Ahead Before Normal US Ties Long Way Ahead Before Normal US Ties

President Hassan Rouhani says ties with the United States had improved, although there was "still a long road to travel" before the two estranged countries could have normal relations.

"The situation has certainly changed," Rouhani, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, told a group of senior editors from media organizations on Friday. "We can point to the tangibles, the many steps forward, but there is still a long road to travel."

He described the historic July 14 nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China as a "big test" for US-Iranian relations and said it was important to create an atmosphere of trust, Reuters reported.

"If we continue on the path, the road will be paved to further cooperation and collaboration," he said, adding that "we have seen good faith between the two sides."

The White House has said there was no meeting planned between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama while they are at UN headquarters in the coming days. Rouhani suggested it would be premature to discuss encounters between the two men.

"Before talking about meetings or handshakes," Rouhani said, the two countries should focus on resolving issues.

The United States and Iran have been at odds since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran that followed. Deep differences remain over Middle East conflicts.

  Syria Crisis

US and western officials in Washington said US Secretary of State John Kerry would try to launch a new initiative for a political solution in Syria during meetings in New York in the next week, starting with talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday.

Rouhani said he was pleased the US was willing to hold discussions on Syria. "Iran is a powerful and effective country within the region," he said.

Speaking through an interpreter, Rouhani also responded to media reports that Iran and Russia would form part of a coalition that would take on the so-called Islamic State and other militant groups.

"I do not see a coalition between Iran and Russia on fighting terrorism in Syria," Rouhani said.

However, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him personally that Moscow wants to play a more active role in combating militant groups in the Middle East. Russia and Iran both support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, unlike western powers, which back what they describe as moderate rebels seeking to oust Assad. Russia has recently stepped up its military support for Assad.

Rouhani said Damascus would ultimately have to accept some measure of political reform. Still, fighting terrorism and addressing the humanitarian crisis were more urgent, he added.

"Stability can be imagined with democracy, but democracy cannot be imagined without stability," he said. "You cannot put a ballot box in a battlefield."

  Time to Enforce Deal

Implementation of the nuclear agreement, which will eventually see the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for temporary limits on Tehran's nuclear program, could begin in the coming months.

"Conditions are ripe for that," the president said.

Western officials have suggested that implementation of the deal was more likely next year.

Rouhani also referred to the detention of Americans in Iran and Iranians in the United States. Iran is holding several Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has dual US and Iranian citizenship.

Rouhani said both countries should do what they could to move forward to freeing prisoners held by each other. He added that the issue was "personally important to me," though he said his constitutional powers were limited on the matter.

"Both governments have to help to move these legal files forward," he said.

Iranian officials have said they want freedom for Iranians held in the United States, some of whom have been jailed on charges of circumventing US sanctions on Tehran.

  Extremist Judgments

Rouhani complained about some of the statements made by US lawmakers critical of the nuclear deal, saying they contained "extremely bitter extremist judgments" and were met with astonishment in Iran.

"It was as if they were on another planet," he said. "They did not seem to know where Iran was."

Rouhani also touched on the tragedy in Saudi Arabia, echoing other Iranian officials' comments that Saudi authorities bore some blame for a crush that killed hundreds of people at the Hajj pilgrimage in the annual event's worst disaster in 25 years.

He said the tragedy may be a result of the Saudis transferring experienced troops to Yemen to fight Houthi fighters, a military campaign that Tehran has repeatedly criticized.