TEHRAN, Iran — President Hassan Rouhani Monday urged the West to interact with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, denouncing sanctions as "unacceptable" as he left for New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
Rouhani, who is heading a high-ranking delegation, will address the U.N. assembly on Tuesday in a speech that will be closely watched by the West looking for signs that he is ready to make good his pledges to engage the world constructively.
"The path of sanctions is an unacceptable and unrealistic path. Those who have opted for [sanctions] will not achieve their objectives," Rouhani told reporters at the airport, the ISNA news agency reported.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for failing to heed six successive ultimatums to suspend uranium enrichment, which Western governments suspect conceals a covert drive for a weapons capability.
"Instead of this path, they should choose one that is based on interaction, negotiation and understanding," he said.
Rouhani said he would use the chance to correct the image of Iran that was portrayed to the world under his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery speeches at the U.N. assembly included Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
"There were hands at work in recent years that unfortunately introduced Iran's image and its culture-loving, peaceful civilization that is search of progress differently," he said, in a veiled criticism of Ahmadinejad.
In New York, Rouhani will team up with his top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is expected to hold talks with his British and French counterparts, as well as with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the major powers in nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Rouhani himself is scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting, which would mark the first high-ranking meeting between Iran's leadership and a Western head of state in almost a decade.
Rouhani has made several diplomatic overtures since his election in June, and there has been speculation that he could also meet President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the General Assembly, which opens on Tuesday.
But Washington warned on Friday that while welcome, the overtures were not enough for it to consider loosening crippling sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors that Rouhani has said he wants eased.