TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's president used his final moments before leaving for New York on Monday to urge Western leaders to heed his appeals for greater dialogue and take steps to ease painful economic sanctions as a path to "reach joint interests."
Hasan Rouhani hopes to use the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering to win promises to restart stalled talks over Tehran's nuclear program. Rouhani also is appealing to the U.S. and allies to roll back sanctions to move ahead the negotiations.
The official IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying Monday the West should choose the "path of interaction, talks and leniency, so we can reach joint interests." He also called sanctions "unacceptable and illegal" and a roadblock to progress on settling the nuclear impasse.
"The Iranian nation is a lover of peace and culture and it is after progress without any causing damage to other countries," said Rouhani.
The West suspects Iran is pursuing nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge saying its nuclear activities have aimed at peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment.
Rouhani's U.N. visit has raised speculation on possible breakthrough in relations with the United States, which broke ties with Tehran after the storming of the U.S. Embassy in late 1979. A total of 52 hostages were held 444 days.
A commentary Monday in the hard-line Kayhan newspaper warned that shaking hands with President Barack Obama would be a "big mistake" and would represent a concession to Washington without any direct benefit for Iran.
Kayhan called Obama a "war criminal" for the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and its bases in the Gulf and elsewhere in the region. "This is the same evil hand that singed economic punishments against Iranian nations," it said.
The uncompromising tone suggests rifts at Iran's highest levels. Kayhan typically reflects the views of hard-liners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has apparently given Rouhani critical backing for his overtures to the West and push to reopen nuclear negotiations.
On the other hand, the website of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani released part of his comments during an interview with a local quarterly. He said that frozen relations between the United States and Iran cannot be continued indefinitely.
"The method that we have now — no talk and no relations with the U.S. — is not capable to be continued," said Rafsanajni. He said there is no difference between the U.S. and Europe, China and Russia, which Iran has relations. "Why shouldn't we talk with the U.S.?" asked Rafsanjani, who supported Rouhani during his presidential campaign.
Mohammad Ali Abatahi, a vice-president under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, told pro-reform Etemad daily he does not expect an official meeting between Rouhani and Obama, but noted that the U.N. gathering could help in the effort to reduce sanctions against Iran.
But Mahdi Hojjat, deputy head of Iran's cultural heritage department, predicted a meeting between the two presidents is likely.
Rouhani and Obama are scheduled to address the U.N. on Tuesday. The Iranian delegation includes Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a former U.N. ambassador.