Rouhani Says Nuclear Accord Marks Start of New Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised an agreement with world powers to ease sanctions over his country’s nuclear program, saying the accord vindicates his government’s policy of engagement.

Rouhani won election in June with a tone of moderation and a pledge to seek an easing of the sanctions that have crippled the economy. A 15-minute phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama on Sept. 27 was the first sign of the new detente and the highest-level U.S.-Iranian encounter since before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979.

The accord marks “a starting point for a new chapter for the Iranian nation,” Rouhani said. If the world powers “fulfill their commitments, Iran will also fulfill its commitment and act on the basis of the agreement.”

After his televised address, Rouhani turned to embrace a little girl who was brought up on stage with other relatives of the nuclear scientists Iran says were killed as part of a campaign against it.

“We won a deal,” said Davoud, 60, a retired office clerk, who like many Iranians asked not to be identified by his full name because of security concerns. “I was awake the whole night, watching the progress. I’m sure Zarif did the best he could,” Davoud said, referring to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

‘Constructive Interaction’

Under the initial deal, Iran must improve cooperation with United Nations monitors, commit to eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent levels and halt advanced centrifuge installation, the White House said in a statement. Iran also won’t commission its Arak heavy water reactor, which, if it became operational, could produce plutonium and give the country a second path to nuclear weapons.

In return, Iran will be able to repatriate $4.2 billion in frozen assets, the Obama administration said. The accord will suspend some sanctions on gold, Iran’s automotive industry and petrochemical exports, potentially worth about $1.5 billion, the administration said.

“Constructive interaction is the motto of this government and it can be achieved through trust, the initial steps of which have been taken,” Rouhani said.

The accord comes less than six months after Rouhani won a surprise first-round election, campaigning on pledges to resolve Iran’s nuclear dispute. He inherited an economy in recession and an inflation rate that was 40 percent last month.

Domestic Resistance

Previous failures to reach an accord had given hardliners in Iran an opportunity to urge the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to prevent negotiators from conceding too much. Earlier this month, Khamenei posted a message of support on Twitter for Zarif and his negotiating team, calling them “sons of the revolution.”

From the outset, Rouhani’s challenge has been to strike a balance between delivering on his pledges and avoiding the appearance of a weak leader compromising on Iran’s rights, a position that would offer ammunition for politicians who oppose any rapprochement with the U.S.

Earlier this year, Republican Guards chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari criticized Rouhani after his phone call with Obama. Still, throughout the talks, Rouhani has had the backing of Khamenei, and devoted part of his speech today to praising him.

‘Powerful Country’

Sanctions have pushed oil output to the lowest since 1990 and squeezed the economy, which contracted more than 5 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March. Iran’s currency, the rial, lost more than half its value in the year before Rouhani’s election, due in part to sanctions denying Iran access to the world financial system. Iran’s economy declined 5.4 percent in the year ending in March, Rouhani has said.

“If sanctions are removed, our economic situation will be good again,” said Alireza, 28, who studies architecture in Tehran. “If Iran is able to use all its resources again, it will become an important, powerful country.”

The two sides now aim to conclude a comprehensive accord within six months. Western nations have accused Iran of harboring nuclear-weapons ambitions, a charge it denies. The U.S. and Israel have said they are willing to use force if needed to prevent that from happening.

The rial strengthened to 29,400 per U.S. dollar in unregulated trading at 11:36 a.m. in Tehran today, from 29,980 on Nov. 19, a day before the latest round of nuclear talks resumed, according to figures compiled by Daily Rates for Gold Coins & Foreign Currencies, a Facebook page used by traders and companies in Iran and abroad. The rial has strengthened 23 percent since June 13, the day before Rouhani won the presidential election.

“The world came to realize that respecting the Iranian nation will bring about positive results and that threats won’t bear fruit,” Rouhani said today.

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