CREDIT: AP Photo/Ebrahim Norooz
In a lengthy interview with local and foreign press, Iran’s newly inaugurated president declared that his country was determined to resolve its standoff with the West, even as it continued to enrich nuclear fuel.
Hassan Rouhani was sworn-in as president on Sunday, a little less than two months after his surprise first-round victory in a contentious election. In his first press conference since taking office, the self-professed moderate was quick to differentiate himself from outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, citing a desire to improve the condition of Iran’s 40 million women and allowing reformist media to attend and ask questions.
The new president made clear, though, that nuclear enrichment wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. “We will not do away with the right of the nation,” Rouhani told the gathered journalists. Iran maintains that its continued enrichment of uranium is for peaceful purposes and allowed under international law. Western governments, however, insist that Iran’s nuclear program is lacking the transparency needed to ensure that enrichment is not also being used for military purposes.
“However, we are for negotiations and interaction,” Rouhani went on to say. “We are prepared, seriously and without wasting time, to enter negotiations which are serious and substantive with the other side,” he said, adding that his government 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.” Critics of the ongoing international talks with Iran over the nuclear standoff often accuse Iran of using them as a stalling tactic to continue advancing their program.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney notably used similar language as Rouhani in the statement issued to commemorate his swearing-in: “Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States.”
Rouhani also took time to criticize the passage of a new round of sanctions through the U.S. House of Representatives as having “nothing to do with the nuclear issue,” and urging Obama to end the “mixed messages” America is sending. Despite the concerns of experts and many of their colleagues over imposing new sanctions on Iran before Rouhani had even taken office, the vote in the House was extremely lopsided, with only 20 legislators voting against the proposal. While a similar measure has yet to be introduced in the Senate, a group of 76 senators recently signed a letter sent to President Obama urging that he continue to ratchet up pressure on Iran no matter who’s serving as president.
Meanwhile, debate in Washington has mostly concerned just how much of a moderate Rouhani would prove to be. A quote regarding Israel that was later revealed to have been mistranslated nearly ended the discussion with conservative groups seizing the opportunity to declare that the Iranian politician is no moderate at all. As CAP experts Matt Duss and Larry Korb argue, however, that distinction matters little in the grand scheme of things.
“[T]he United States has an interest in ending the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program irrespective of Rouhani’s moderation,” they write, adding that he “has expressed that ideology must not stand in the way of advancing Iran’s interests, and he has demonstrated an ability to deal constructively with Western leaders: This is where American policymakers and analysts—interested in overcoming the nuclear impasse—should rightly focus.”