Rohani Pledges to Make Iran Nuclear Program More Transparent

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani said he will make the country’s nuclear program more transparent as he seeks to ease tension with the U.S. and reduce “brutal” sanctions that have crippled the economy.

Rohani, in the first news conference since his surprise first-round win last weekend, said yesterday he will pursue a policy of moderation to improve Iran’s relations with regional countries and beyond. He takes office in August.

“We will try to win back trust,” Rohani said. “We can make it clear to the whole world that the measures and activities of the Islamic Republic Republic of Iran are totally within international regulations and mechanisms.”

Rohani, 64, won more than 50 percent of the vote to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose anti-Israel rhetoric and questioning of the Holocaust made Iran a pariah and helped prompt more sanctions. All six Iranian candidates for president were approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, 73, who retains the power over national security, especially the country’s nuclear program.

Past presidents have been able to influence the tone of Iran’s foreign policy.

The election of Rohani, a “more moderate Iranian president is positive, particularly in relation to the incumbent,” said Raza Agha, chief Middle East and Africa economist at VTB Capital in London.

“Whether actual change can emerge will depend on how Mr. Rohani manages the powers that be,” Agha wrote in an e-mailed analysis. His work “will be made easier if the international community is more receptive.”

Obama, Putin

U.S. President Barack Obama, after meeting yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the two leaders share “cautious optimism” that Iran’s election may open a new avenue for ending the standoff over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

While Iran was open to mend relations with the U.S., Rohani said a condition for direct talks is a pledge not to “interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs,” to scrap “bullying policies” and to acknowledge the nation’s rights.

“It’s a very old wound so we need to think of somehow healing it,” he said of Iran’s relations with the U.S. government. “We don’t want to see further tension, so wisdom tells us that both nations need to think more about the future and try to find solutions to past issues.”

“If we see goodwill, we can also take some confidence-building measures,” he said.

Moving Forward

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Iran needs to offer a substantive proposal, and not campaign pledges, for nuclear talks to resume.

“There are a number of promises that were made during this election,” Psaki said yesterday at a briefing. “The question is, what happens moving forward? And we will see.”

Israel and the U.S. say they think Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons capability. Both have threatened to attack Iran should other means fail to stop the Islamic republic from trying to obtain nuclear weapons. Iranian officials say Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is entitled to conduct nuclear work and maintains its program is solely for energy generation and medical research.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the world to maintain its pressure on Iran, saying Khamenei, not Rohani, holds the nuclear strings. “We do not delude ourselves” over Rohani’s win, and Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped no matter how, Netanyahu said June 16.

‘Dynamic’ Talks

Rohani said talks were the only way to resolve the dispute and that negotiations with six world powers, which have failed to yield a concrete outcome, must become “more dynamic.”

“Sanctions and threats will not be solutions,” he said yesterday. “The solution is only through talks and dialogue and mutual confidence. This is possible.”

Today, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi said Rohani may adopt different “tactics, means and strategies,” while seeking to safeguard Iran’s national interests and rights.

“The principles and values of the Islamic Revolution are immutable,” Araghchi told reporters in Tehran today. “The rights of the Iranian nation are the benchmark, and any government will be duty-bound to safeguard those rights.”

The sanctions have fueled a currency devaluation and helped to send the Iranian economy into recession. Gross domestic product is set to contract for a second year in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Rohani said “salvaging” the economy by boosting local production and “funneling investment in the right direction” were at the top of his agenda. He is also seeking to curb unemployment that left a quarter of Iranians age 15 to 29 without jobs in the Iranian year ended March 20.

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