The United Nations and the international community are fully behind the people of Iran in your long struggle for democracy and human rights. The first human rights charter was developed by Cyrus 2,500 years ago. This is something very commendable that you should be very proud of.
Today, Iranian scholarship and Islam itself offer a rich and pluralist tradition of interpretation and application of the law, and I encourage Iran to allow greater space for different and divergent perspectives to play out in public debate. Many other countries with strong Islamic traditions have in this way found a path to complying with international standards, for instance on the use of corporal punishment or the death penalty, while remaining true to their Islamic identity and values.
I welcome the efforts by Iran's judiciary to prevent the execution of juvenile offenders. But, I encourage further steps to restrict and even abolish the death penalty in law and practice. Many other human rights challenges remain - civil and political rights, due process, and discrimination against women and minorities. Restricting freedom of expression and suppressing social activism will only set back development and plant the seeds of instability.
It is especially important for the voices of Iran's people to be heard during next year's presidential election. That is why I have urged the authorities during my visit this time to release opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and social activists to create the conditions for free expression and open debate.
I also urge Iran to strengthen cooperation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, in particular the Special Rapporteur. I have discussed this matter with your leadership.
Serious questions also persist over nuclear issues. It is in Iran's interest to take concrete steps to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. That is why I urge Iran to uphold its responsibilities as a United Nations Member State and party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), and to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions.
And I urge all parties in the region to recognize the need to resolve this situation through diplomatic and peaceful means. This is what I discussed with Dr. [Ali Ardashir] Larijani, and also Foreign Minister [Ali Akbar] Salehi yesterday and also today. They both assured me that they are optimistic about the prospect of negotiations.
Provocative and inflammatory remarks and threats should be avoided by all means and all parties. Under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States have a clear obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any other State. Every country has a responsibility to exercise maximum restraint and to refrain from any hostile behaviour that could inflame tensions and further complicate the search for peace. Let us remember that it was Iran itself, 38 years ago, that proposed the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.
Efforts that would lead to a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction are already under way. I have appointed a special envoy, and he is now working very hard to convene this meeting before the end of this month. This represents a unique opportunity for all States in the region to constructively address common security problems on an equal level. This is clearly in the interests of all States and a goal well worth pursuing.
I believe we can make progress on all of these challenges and more. Our collective responsibility is to build bridges of mutual understanding. This is the very heart of the Alliance of Civilizations, which is an initiative by the United Nations, an initiative inspired by Iran itself through dialogue among civilizations. This is what your country has proposed. All nations should be true to that higher calling.
I remember that when I was working as the Chief of Staff to the President of the General Assembly in 2001 and 2002 - this was right after 11 September - this dialogue among civilizations was convened in the General Assembly. And it was a very important, meaningful and constructive meeting of the General Assembly at that time, right after 11 September.
As you know, this is another issue; the United Nations General Assembly has condemned Holocaust denial. Anti-Semitism has no place in the twenty-first century. Likewise, Islamophobia, a new word for an old phenomenon, is equally defamatory. When leaders or ordinary people utter such sentiments, it is they who are diminished. When academic institutions or think tanks lend their support to pseudo-scholarship, they are betraying their own principles.
My purpose today is to highlight the cost of Iran's current trajectory, both at home and in the international arena. Any country at odds with the international community is one that denies itself much-needed investment and finds itself isolated from the thrust of common progress. Any country at odds with itself deprives itself of its people's energy and goodwill, and sets the stage for future instability.
I understand that Iran has suffered at the hands of external actors. You went through a terrible war with your neighbour. You have felt unduly singled out. But I also know that you can overcome the current difficulties and build a better future.