Rohani Pledges Moderation as He Takes Iran Oath of Office

Iranian President Hassan Rohani pledged to shun extremism and take a moderate approach to governing the Islamic Republic as he took the oath of office before legislators today.

“The government of hope and prudence will have moderation as a basis of its management for running the country,” Rohani, 64, said in his speech in Tehran. “The government will fight corruption and discrimination.”

Rohani, who was endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to start his four-year term yesterday, 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 only way for interaction with Iran is dialogue on equal footing, with mutual respect and mutual confidence building,” Rohani said. “I want to clearly express that if you want the right response it should not be through the language of sanctions, but through discourse and respect.”

‘Balancing Act’

Rohani did a “balancing act,” said Kamran Bokhari, vice president for Middle Eastern affairs at the Austin, Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor. “He was careful not to send any wrong message because he faces considerable resistance from within the establishment in regards to negotiations with the U.S. and potential compromises on the nuclear issue.”

Rohani’s “choice of word were careful but clear, saying we don’t want confrontation with the international community, but you need to treat us with respect,” Bokhari said.

The White House released a statement congratulating Iranians on Rohani’s inauguration within an hour of his address in the parliament.

Rohani’s inauguration “presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” according to the statement by the White House press secretary. The new Iranian government “will find a willing partner” in the U.S. if it chooses to “engage substantively and seriously.”

The statement by the Obama administration, though “cautious,” was noteworthy in its timing, Bokhari said.

White House Statement

The U.S. “didn’t take a long time to respond,” he said. “It’s a faint sign from the U.S. that if you want to be treated with respect we are willing to do it, but what are you willing to do for us?”

Rohani submitted a list of his proposed cabinet members to lawmakers, naming Javad Zarif as foreign minister and Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh as oil minister. Cabinet appointments require parliamentary approval. Rohani earlier today nominated Mohammad Nahavandian, the former head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines, to be his chief of staff.

Khamenei, 74, the Islamic Republic’s highest authority, yesterday praised Rohani’s past service and backed his approach to foreign policy. In his first press conference after being elected, Rohani said he would seek to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent and improve relations with Western nations, including the U.S.

‘Prudent Approach’

“I approve of the prudent approach,” Khamenei told top officials yesterday. “We need to take action wisely and prudently.”

The U.S. and its allies accuse the Persian Gulf nation of seeking to build nuclear weapons, while Iran maintains its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes of energy production and medical research. Rohani has backed Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program while criticizing Ahmadinejad’s confrontational style on the issue.

The president may be able to challenge Iran’s status quo because he is a “centrist,” said Trita Parsi, author of “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran,” and president of the National Iranian-American Council in Washington.

“His political center of gravity is at the center,” Parsi said yesterday in an e-mail. “He enjoys good relations with most elements within the Iranian power structure, from the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps to the clergy to the various political factions.”

Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries a year ago, now ranks sixth as sanctions limit investment and hinder its ability to export oil. Inflation reached 36 percent in June and a quarter of all Iranians age 15 to 29 were unemployed in the last Iranian year ended March 20, according to official figures.

Ten foreign presidents and senior representatives from 52 nations attended Rohani’s inauguration, including leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon, state-run television said.

Iranians’ “minimum expectations are that the government restore stability and tranquility to the country,” Rohani said yesterday. “We have a long, long way to our destination, and the journey has just started.”

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