Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rouhani ushered in the post-Ahmadinejad era Monday with a sometimes extraordinary 90-minute press conference in which he stressed he would take a pragmatic and moderate approach to improve Iranian relations with the world and reduce tensions with the United States over Iran's nuclear program.
“The Iranian people…will be happy to build trust and repair relations with the United States,” if the US pledges to never interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs and to respect Iran’s rights, including for domestic enrichment, Rouhani told the packed press conference in Tehran.
“We don't want further tension” with the United States, Rouhani, 64, said. “Both nations need to think more about the future and try to sit down and find solutions to past issues and rectify things.”
“My government will defend the rights of the Iranian nation,” the multilingual cleric, who earned his PhD in Glasgow, said. “We want to see less tension, and if we see goodwill” from the United States, then “confidence -building measures can be made.”
Asked how Iran could get out from crippling economic sanctions, Rouhani said his government would offer greater transparency of Iran’s nuclear program and take steps to restore international trust to get sanctions rolled back. “Our nuclear program is transparent but we’re ready to take steps to make it more transparent,” he said.
Rouhani said, however, that the time has passed for Iran to agree to suspend lower level enrichment, which it did in 2004-2005 when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. “That era is behind us,” Rouhani said of the deal he negotiated a decade ago with three European powers to suspend Iran's 3.5% enrichment. “There are so many other ways to build international trust.”
Rouhani proposed that a deal he discussed in 2005 with then French President Jacques Chirac, which he said was rejected by the UK and the US, could be the model going forward.
Hossein Mousavian, who served as a member of the Rouhani negotiating team, said the Chirac idea that Rouhani referenced involved the highest level of transparency of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Iran having its rights under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognized.
“We agreed with Chirac that: first, the EU-3 would respect the legitimate rights of Iran for peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT, including enrichment,” Mousavian told Al-Monitor Monday. “Second, Iran would accept the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA's definition for objective guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program would remain peaceful and would not divert toward weaponization in the future.”
“It means that Iran would respect the maximum level of transparency that internationally exists,” Mousavian, a contributing writer to Al-Monitor, further explained. “In return, the P5+1 would not discriminate against Iran as a member of the NPT. It would respect Iran's rights under the NPT like other members.”
Mousavian, asked how Washington should try to realize the potential to advance a nuclear deal under the more moderate Rouhani presidency, recommended that US President Barack Obama write Rouhani, offer him congratulations, and reiterate US interest in direct talks.
“Confirm the willingness and intentions of the US for relations based on mutual respect and mutual interest, to depart from 30 years of hostility and tension,” Mousavian suggested. Reiterate Washington's “readiness for direct talks with no preconditions.”
“I think now is the time,” Mousavian said, adding that he too had been taken by surprise by Rouhani's victory.
A top advisor to President Obama said Sunday the White House sees Rouhani's election as a “potentially hopeful sign.”
“I think the question for us now is, if he is interested in, as he has said in his campaign events, mending Iran's relations with the rest of the world, there's an opportunity to do that,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told CBS's Bob Schieffer Sunday.
“If he lives up to his obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolution to come clean on this illicit nuclear program, he will find a partner in us, and there will be an opportunity for that,” McDonough said.
Rouhani's “election could be the best news in many years for the future of the whole region,” former British foreign secretary Jack Straw wrote in the Daily Telegraph Monday.
“There are, however, two dangers,” Straw warned. “The first is to assume that nothing has changed – that Rowhani is merely a better-dressed Ahmadinejad. This is the essence of the belligerent comments from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in the wake of Rowhani’s victory. They are unthinking and self-defeating.”
“The second danger is to assume that everything has changed, and to expect too much too quickly,” Straw continued. “While it will be a huge relief to do business with him, he is a Shia and an Iranian, and intensely proud of being both. But show him and his nation patience, respect and understanding, and there’s a possibility that the 10 years of 'E3+3' meetings which started in south Tehran in 2003 might, just, have a happy ending.”