UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iran's president told the U.N. General Assembly Thursday that moderate leaders in the Middle East must spearhead the fight against extremists, warning that their goal of destroying civilization is generating anti-Muslim hatred and creating fertile ground for further intervention of foreign forces in the region.
Hassan Rouhani said leaders who are neither anti- nor pro-Western and know "the pain" the region is experiencing can win the confidence of people in their countries "and establish the strongest national and international coalitions against violence."
"And if other nations wish to take action against terrorism, they must come to their support," he said.
Rouhani warned that if countries that have joined the U.S.-led coalition "do so to continue their hegemony in the region, they would make a strategic mistake." This appeared to be directed to the monarchies that are part of the more than 50-nation coalition — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.
"I warn that if we do not muster all our strengths against extremism and violence today, and fail to entrust the job to the people in the region who can deliver, tomorrow the world will be safe for no one," Rouhani said.
In a wide-ranging speech, he also said a nuclear agreement is possible before the November deadline if the West wants a deal and shows flexibility.
He said an agreement would create a new day for cooperation in the region and internationally, including on combating violence and extremism.
Rouhani said many parts of the Middle East "are currently burning in fire of extremism and radicalism" and expressed deep regret that terrorism has become globalized.
Terrorism is now spreading to other parts of the world "like a contagious disease" and has become a threat "from New York to Mosul, from Damascus to Baghdad, from the easternmost to the westernmost parts of the world, from al-Qaeda to Daesh," the Iranian leader said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State extremist group.
He said extremists come to the Middle East from around the world with a single ideology, "violence and extremism."
"The extremists of the world have found each other and have put out the call: 'extremists of the world unite,' " Rouhani said. "But are we united against the extremists?"
Rouhani said all countries that founded and supported the terrorist groups must acknowledge that their errors have led to extremism and apologize not only to the past generation but to the next generation.
He also called for a global fight against the underlying causes of terrorism.
"Terrorism germinates in poverty, unemployment, discrimination, humiliation and injustice," Rouhani said. "And it grows in the culture of violence. To uproot extremism, we must spread justice and development and disallow the distortion of divine teachings to justify brutality and cruelty."
In recent weeks, the Islamic State terrorist group and its affiliates have beheaded two Americans, a Briton and a Frenchman, the latest victim killed in Algeria on Wednesday as the General Assembly session opened.
"The pain is made greater when these terrorists spill blood in the name of religion and behead in the name of Islam," Rouhani said.
He said the extremists hide the "incontrovertible truth" that according to all prophets — from Abraham and Moses to Jesus and Mohammed — taking "a single innocent life is akin to killing the whole humanity."
The Iranian leader addressed the assembly as representatives from six major powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — continued nuclear talks on the sidelines of the meeting of world leaders.
The negotiations have been stalled for months over Iran's opposition to sharply reducing the size and output of centrifuges that can enrich uranium both to levels needed for reactor fuel or the core of nuclear warheads. Iran says its enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes, but the United States fears it could be used to make a bomb. Iran says any deal must put an end to the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
Rouhani told the General Assembly that Iran is determined to continue its confidence-building approach and transparency in the nuclear negotiations.
"I believe mutual adherence to the strict implementation of commitments and obligations and avoidance of excessive demands in the negotiations by our counterparts is the prerequisite for the success of the negotiations," he said.
If the six parties "are also equally motivated and flexible, and we can overcome the problem and reach a longstanding agreement within the time remaining, then an entirely different environment will emerge for cooperation and regional and international levels, allowing for greater focus on some very important regional issues such as combating violence and extremism in the region," Rouhani said.
He said an agreement would also be "a historic opportunity" for the West to show it doesn't discriminate on international rules. Those rules allow Iran to produce nuclear material to generate electricity and for other peaceful purposes, and Rouhani reiterated that Iran will not give up that right.
Associated Press Writer George Jahn contributed to this report from the United Nations.