Sep 18, 2013 - In his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since becoming president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani told NBC News' Ann Curry that he and President Obama have taken "subtle and tiny steps for a very important future." Watch more on Nightly News at 6:30 p.m. ET.
President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News on Wednesday that his administration will never develop nuclear weapons and that he has full authority to make a deal with the West on the disputed atomic program.
In Rouhani's first interview with a U.S. news outlet since his election, he also spoke to NBC News National and International correspondent/anchor Ann Curry about his initial interactions with President Obama, who sent him a letter of congratulations and raised "some issues."
"From my point of view, the tone of the letter was positive and constructive," Rouhani said.
"It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future. I believe the leaders in all countries could think in their national interest and they should not be under the influence of pressure groups. I hope to witness such an atmosphere in the future."
Rouhani's comments are the latest in a slew of signs that he is cautiously open to defrosting relations with the U.S., which were in deep freeze under the isolating leadership of his predecessor, the inflammatory Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
Elected in June with just over 50 percent of the vote, he was the only non-conservative in a field of hard-liners. In his inaugural address, he spoke of engagement with the West to end sanctions over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"The Iranian people voted 'yes' to moderation," he said in his speech.
Rouhani's appearance next Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly — where western diplomats regularly stalked out of Ahmedinejad's fiery speeches — should provide more clues to just how moderate he is.
But analysts say there is reason to believe it's not all talk.
The head of Tehran's nuclear program said Monday that Rouhani has a "more full-fledged ... desire" to hash out the dispute with the West over its atomic program, expected to be the topic of talks later this year.
In his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since becoming president, Hassan Rouhani told NBC News' Ann Curry that he has full authority to strike a nukes deal with the west. Watch more on Nightly News at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Rouhani was quoted by his country's official news agency as saying he would accept any Syrian president elected by the people — without expressing unqualified support for the embattled Bashar Assad.
"Whoever Syrian citizens vote for to rule their country, we'll agree with it," Rouhani was quoted as telling commanders of the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted Rosh Hashanah well-wishes earlier this month, in stark contrast to the anti-Semitic vitriol of Ahmedinejad.
Experts say Rouhani's softer approach apparently has the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On Monday, the new president said the Revolutionary Guards — who report to Khamenei and have been accused of backing hard-liners — should stay out of politics. The next day, Khamenei was quoted on state TV as saying, "It is not necessary for the Guards to have activities in the political field."
Khamenei also spoke about the need for "flexibility.”
"I agree with what I years ago called heroic flexibility, because this is sometimes a very good and necessary move but with sticking to a basic condition," he was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
"Sometimes a wrestler shows flexibility for technical reasons, but he doesn't forget who his opponent is and what his real goal is."
Despite the overtures, the tension between the U.S. and Iran — which cut diplomatic ties in 1980 after the hostage crisis — remains palpable.
Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Marzieh Afkham, criticized the tone of Obama's letter to Rouhani.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. administration is still adopting the language of threat while dealing with Iran,” Afkham said, according to the New York Times. “We have announced that this needs to change into the language of respect.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the letter — in which Obama said the U.S. is open to a resolution that allows Iran to prove its nuclear program is peaceful — conveyed the need to act quickly because the window for a diplomatic deal "will not remain open indefinitely."
At the annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, where Iranian energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi pledged more cooperation, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said only time will tell if Tehran is sincere.
"The proof will be in the pudding," he said. "The words have to be followed by concrete action."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Mike Simon / NBC News
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani is interviewed by Ann Curry in Tehran on Sept. 18, 2013.
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