President Rouhani promises to present 'true face' of Iran at UN



Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, takes the oath of office.


Atta Kenare

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday he would show the world the "true face of Iran" during his trip to New York City for the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, where he could possibly meet US President Barack Obama face-to-face.

Also Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry made history by saying he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Thursday. According to the Wall Street Journal, the meeting signals the highest-level in-person diplomatic contact between the US and the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution in Iran.

European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said additional talks between Iran and the six major powers negotiating Iran's nuclear program would be held in October in Geneva.

Rouhani, a moderate conservative elected to office in June, has in recent weeks been on something of a charm offensive, writing a tactful op-ed in The Washington Post and tweeting about diplomacy, a sharp departure from the tactics of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Unfortunately in recent years the face of Iran, a great and civilized nation, has been presented in another way," Rouhani said, according 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."

Despite a change in tone, the most contentious issue between the United States and Iran remains: Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The United States, Israel and other western nations say Iran is seeking nuclear weapons technology, a claim Iran denies, saying its program is for medical and energy purposes only.

“We will try to make the voice and message of the Iranian nation heard by the world and say that the Iranian nation is opposed to any violence and extremism, particularly in today’s world, namely in our region and many other countries where people are affected by extremism and violence,” Rouhani told reporters on Monday, according to Iranian state-run news outlet Press TV. 

Also on Monday, Iran's judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejei told reporters that Iran had pardoned 80 prisoners ahead of Rouhani's visit to the UN.

"A number of security prisoners were granted amnesty by the Supreme Leader," Ejei said. "They can be granted pardon on the suggestion of the head of the judiciary and that can include all or part of their punishments."

Many of those released were arrested in a political crackdown after the re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. The total of 80 appears to include the dozen political prisoners Iran released last week.

More from GlobalPost: Nasrin Sotoudeh, prominent human rights defender, among prisoners freed in Iran

Iran's main opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi are still under house arrest.

Rouhani and Obama will both address the assembly on Tuesday, raising the possibility of a meeting. The White House's remarks suggest that Obama may be willing to meet with Rouhani for talks, a move many Americans and Iranians support.

According to a poll commissioned by Avaaz, "59 percent of Americans and 51 percent of Iranians - 74 percent and 80 percent, respectively, of those who expressed an opinion -support direct talks."