Iranian President Hassan Rohani said his country is “seriously determined” to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program with Western powers without compromising its right to nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
“We are for negotiations,” Rohani said in his first news conference after taking office this month. “We are ready to enter without wasting time in negotiations that are substantive and serious.”
Rohani succeeds Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office in 2005. The Scottish-educated cleric was elected in June on pledges to improve Iran’s economy and world standing, and enters office as the country experiences its worst political and economic isolation in two decades. The economy is hampered by accelerating inflation and a weakened currency resulting from sanctions spearheaded by the U.S. in an effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. and Israel accuse Iran of secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge the Islamic republic denies, saying it needs to secure power for its growing population.
“The Islamic establishment is seriously determined to resolve the nuclear issue while at the same time the rights of people are preserved and simultaneously the concerns of the other side will be considered,” Rohani said. “We hope the other side also possesses this determination.”
In a statement released after Rohani’s Aug. 4 inauguration address, the White House said it would be “a willing partner” if Iran decides “to engage substantively and seriously” in honoring its international obligations and works toward a peaceful solution on the nuclear issue.
A bipartisan group of 76 senators urged President Barack Obama in an Aug. 2 letter to “toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force at the same time as we fully explore a diplomatic solution to our dispute with Iran.”
“What matters to us is a practical response from the U.S. government, not the statements,” Rohani said. “We will evaluate all actions taken by the U.S. government carefully. If there are any constructive or meaningful acts we will respond prudently and proportionately.”
’Carrots and Sticks’
The new president rejected “contradictory messages” and the dual-track of sanctions and diplomacy adopted by the U.S. administration.
“We don’t like the carrots and sticks approach,” Rohani said. “If logic is the basis of negotiations, the doors are open.”
Rohani, who held Iran’s nuclear portfolio a decade ago, when tensions were lower, takes over after several rounds of talks with world powers that produced little progress. Failure to reach an outcome risks exposing the Persian Gulf nation to a military attack by Israel, which says it sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.
Rohani, 64, is seeking to create a clear distinction from the era of Ahmadinejad, whose hostile rhetoric to Israel helped fuel Western concerns about Iran’s intentions.
“Politely, prudently we will talk with the world to make sure the world understand that Iran wants to follow its inalienable rights, but we’re not threatening anyone.”
The economy will shrink 1.3 percent this year, extending a 1.9 percent decline in 2012, the International Monetary Fund predicts. Inflation is above 30 percent and unemployment about 12 percent, twice that among young people. Rohani and his aides are accusing Ahmadinejad of massaging the data, saying those official figures mask a more dire reality.