Hassan Rouhani says Tehran would match any ‘constructive move’ by Washington to end stalemate over nuclear programme
Iran‘s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has said his government is determined to engage in “serious and substantive” negotiations with the west without wasting time in order to resolve the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Two days after he was sworn into office and in his first press conference, Rouhani also said on Tuesday that he was open to direct talks with the US, provided that Washington showed “good will” in action and put aside “hidden agendas”, an apparent reference to its perceived policy of regime change.
Rouhani’s remarks followed a statement by the White House on Sunday which said Tehran would find “a willing partner in the United States” should it choose to engage.
On the nuclear issue, the 64-year-old president said constructive dialogue and interaction could leave both sides in a “win-win” situation.
“As Iran’s president, I announce that the Islamic republic is determined to resolve this issue and remove the concerns of the other side while Iranian people’s rights are preserved,” Rouhani said.
The moderate cleric was speaking to reporters in Tehran in a room packed with national and foreign journalists. It was broadcast live on national television.
He added: “We are determined and ready to enter serious and substantive negotiations with the other side and if they are prepared like us, then I am confident that the concerns of both sides will be removed through negotiations within a period which will not be very long.”
Rouhani said he wanted Washington to hear the message of Iran’s election and show its willingness in practical steps, promising that any constructive move by the Americans would be reciprocated accordingly.
“What counts for us is the US’s response in action, not their statements,” he said. “We closely observe their actions and we will respond accordingly and similarly to any constructive and meaningful move.”
However, Rouhani said the difference between the White House’s statement, which came shortly after the new president’s inauguration ceremony on Sunday, and the US congress’s new sanctions bill showed an inconsistency in the US’s words and its actions. “There has been contradictory behaviour and messages,” he said, adding that the new legislation posed a dilemma for the White House. “We never approved the US’s carrot and stick approach.”
“Unfortunately the warmongering pressure groups in the US are against constructive dialogue … and are imposing their will on the representatives of the US congress,” he said.
Asked whether he was willing to meet the US president, Barack Obama, at the UN general assembly in September, Rouhani did not directly answer but said his trip to New York was under review and a final decision had not been made.
Rouhani said western sanctions had nothing to do with the nuclear issue and were merely designed to target ordinary lives.
“The goals of the sanctions in practice are piling pressure on various classes of the people,” he said.
Rouhani’s remarks were echoed by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president backed by the country’s opposition.
“The differing approaches of the US administration and congress raise doubts and do not send a good signal to the Iranian people,” Rafsanjani told former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in a meeting in Tehran.
“Sanctions and threats have always cast a shadow over negotiations, and we should move toward the resolution of old grievances in an atmosphere of calm and peace,” he said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
Russia reacted to Rouhani’s nuclear remarks on Tuesday, saying it would support the Iranian president’s position. “We absolutely agree with what he [Rouhani] said. This problem must not be solved with ultimatums,” said Russian’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in quotes carried by the Interfax news agency. “Now it is critical to support the constructive approach of the Iranian leadership.”
A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said western powers involved in nuclear talks with the Islamic republic “stand ready to continue talks to find a resolution as quickly as possible” and urged Rouhani to seek a swift resolution to their concerns. As Rouhani has taken power in Iran, the price of crude oil has significantly fallen, signalling the oil market’s positive response to his election.
Ali Alizadeh, an Iranian political analyst, said Rouhani’s press conference, which was dominated by questions about direct talks with the US, showed the new president has a moderate and compromising tone not heard in Tehran for a long time.
“He showed awareness of the west’s impatience with mere rhetoric around negotiations and suspicion that Iran is attending talks merely to buy time, by promising fast and substantive talks and not wasting time,” he told the Guardian.
“His emphasis on a win-win outcome for the nuclear impasse was an implicit statement that Iran is willing to compromise.”
On Syria, Rouhani said Tehran was against any foreign intervention and that the Syrian people should decide their future through “democracy and election”. However, he said Iran and other countries in the region, including Turkey, can help to facilitate the process of bringing peace back to Syria.
Ali Ansari of St Andrews University said he was not impressed by Rouhani’s remarks and nothing in particular stood out for him other than his comments about Syria. He argued that Rouhani’s notion that Tehran needs to see actions not words could have come from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I think the [Iranian] electorate might say a similar thing in relation to his [campaign] promises,” he told the Guardian. “He certainly speaks well and has a great smiling countenance. It is also clear that it is the economy which is front and centre [of policy for Rouhani] not politics.”