WASHINGTON, Sept 20: US President Barack Obama is willing to meet Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly which begins in New York next week, says the White House.

At a briefing on Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration was also ready to discuss a deal with Iran which could end international sanctions in exchange for an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

At an earlier briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama was “willing to have a meeting” with Mr Rouhani if “Iran demonstrates a seriousness about dealing with its nuclear weapons programme.”

President Rouhani told ABC News earlier this week that Iran did not want to develop nuclear weapons and was open to discussing a deal with the West about dismantling its programme.

“The US stands ready to engage with the Iranians on the basis of mutual respect,” Mr Earnest told reporters in Washington. In a report published in the paper on Friday, The New York Times quoted Iranian officials as saying that Iran wanted to restore normal relations with the West and was seeking quick relief from the sanctions.

Mr Earnest said Iran’s interest in discussing a deal with the West showed that the sanctions were working and had forced Tehran to “come back to the bargaining table”. The United States, he said, was also willing to engage in bilateral negotiations.

“Over the course of these talks, the Iranians will have an opportunity to demonstrate that they are willing to live up to their promises and prove to the international community that the nuclear programme they’re pursuing is for exclusively peaceful means,” he said.

Referring to an exchange of letters between presidents Obama and Rouhani, Mr Earnest said the US was already engaged in “ongoing conversations” with Iran on this issue.

The US media had reported earlier this week that the two leaders may meet next week in New York during UN General Assembly.

At a separate briefing, Mr Carney welcomed a change in Iran’s attitude towards the West. “There’s no question that the new Iranian government has been taking a different approach” than what was taken under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he said.

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