Kerry to meet Iran's foreign minister as Tehran pushes 'path of talks'

Iranian president says he will show 'true face of Iran' at UN general meeting in New York

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday he would present the "true face of Iran" at the U.N. General Assembly, as Tehran and Washington signaled a renewed willingness to seek a diplomatic solution to the stalemate over Iran's nuclear program.

In comments ahead of his visit to New York, Rouhani branded U.S.-led sanctions against his country "illegal and unacceptable" but suggested that Tehran was willing to cooperate with the West to resolve the nuclear standoff.

The Iranian president's remarks came as U.S. officials confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry would be involved in a meeting between Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his counterparts from the P5+1 group -- the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia -- aimed at reviving stalled negotiations.

The meeting was announced Monday by E.U. foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has served as lead negotiator for the P5+1.

Iran maintains it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful ends, but the U.S. and its allies fear the program may ultimately have military goals.

Rouhani suggested Monday that he would strive to correct what he said was the distorted image of Iran presented in recent years.

"Unfortunately, in recent years the face of Iran, a great and civilized nation, has been presented in another way," Rouhani said Monday, according to comments published on his official website.

"I and my colleagues will take the opportunity to present the true face of Iran as a cultured and peace-loving country."

Rouhani did not make clear whom he blames for any distortion of Iran's image. But the comments suggest he is intent on distancing himself from the controversial, outspoken approach to the West adopted by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The United States and its allies have imposed increasingly strict economic sanctions on Iran in recent years, partly in response to Tehran's failure to heed U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment until queries about its nuclear work are answered to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rouhani, a nuclear negotiator under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who preceded Ahmadinejad, admitted that sanctions against Iran have caused suffering for its people. 

"On this trip, I will try to deliver the voice of the oppressed people of Iran to the world, and we should say that sanctions are an illegal and unacceptable path," he told journalists before leaving.

"The West should opt for the path of talks and cooperation and consider mutual interests," he said.

On Monday the U.S State Department said it hoped the new government in Tehran would engage with the international community. Kerry said he welcomed Zarif's "commitment to a serious response" ahead of the pair's meeting.

Engineer a handshake

U.S. officials have left open the possibility that President Barack Obama and Rouhani could meet on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting, and a U.S. official has privately acknowledged the administration's desire to engineer a handshake between the two leaders.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejei told a news conference Monday that Tehran had pardoned 80 prisoners, including some arrested over protests that followed the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Last week Iran released a dozen prominent political prisoners, including prominent human-rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Ejei's announcement suggested that those 12 were among the 80 who were pardoned.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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