By Justin Sink - 09/24/13 02:50 PM EDT
President Obama is directing Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a nuclear weapons deal with Iran, the president announced in a speech Tuesday to the United Nations.
Recent statements by Iran’s new government indicating it is not interested in a nuclear weapons program “should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement,” Obama told the gathering at the U.N. General Assembly.
“If we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road to a different relationship,” Obama said.
Kerry is to meet his Iranian counterpart at the United Nations on Thursday, the first such meeting since the countries broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
It is also possible that Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could meet on the margins of the United Nations, in what would be the first meeting between American and Iranian heads of state since 1977. Obama said Kerry would pursue talks in coordination with the European Union, alongside the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The planned negotiations come as Tehran has repeatedly indicated a new willingness to negotiate an end to crippling economic sanctions put in place to discourage the Iranian nuclear program.
Rouhani, who was elected earlier this year, has said that he has the authority to negotiate such a deal. The president said that any deal would need to be "transparent and verifiable" but said he was "encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course."
Obama warned that "the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to spread a shadow over the pursuit of peace" not only in Iran but also in Syria.
Accusing the international community of a response that "has not matched the scale of the challenge" in that nation, Obama called for "a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments" to disarm its chemical weapons program.
The president said that if the United Nations failed to do so, it would prove "incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws."
Obama also announced an additional $340 million in humanitarian aid to Syria.
The president said he was hopeful for a diplomatic solution between Israel and the Palestinians. He called on Israelis to accept a Palestinian state, while cautioning Arab nations that stability could be achieved with the continued existence of a secure Israel.
Obama said the U.S. would "never compromise" on its commitment to Israeli security. But he also said there was a "growing recognition in Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing the democratic fabric of the Jewish state."
The president said a breakthrough would have a "profound, positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa."
— This story was updated at 11:34 a.m.