Iranian president to attend World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images - Hassan Rouhani will be the first Iranian president to attend the annual gathering of world leaders, business tycoons, journalists and academics in a decade.

TEHRAN — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland later this month, Iranian news media reported Saturday, in an apparent attempt to boost diplomatic efforts that have stalled in recent weeks.

Rouhani will be the first Iranian president to attend the annual gathering of world leaders, business tycoons, journalists and academics in a decade.

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Rouhani’s decision to attend the meeting comes as Iranian and world powers struggle to reach an agreement over Iran’s contested nuclear ambitions, and as his country continues its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in that country’s conflict. The two issues have contributed heavily to Iran’s international isolation.

The World Economic Forum, which is held in the Swiss resort town of Davos, coincides with a conference on Syria in Geneva. Iran is unlikely to be invited to that event.

Politicians in Tehran and Washington opposed to rapprochement between the long time foes are suggesting measures that could potentially sabotage future nuclear talks. But Rouhani played down the significance of those views, saying Tuesday that “we should not and do not fear the fuss made by a few people or a small percentage.”

“Attending Davos has become even more important amid hard-line posturing. It sends a signal of steadfastness in Rouhani’s commitment to constructive engagement with the world,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a political analyst based in Tehran.

Other Iranian officials have attended the meeting, including former president Mohammad Khatami, who met with Secretary of State John F. Kerry at the event in 2007.

After attending the U.N. General Assembly in September, Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were hailed internationally for starting a new era of engagement between Iran and the rest of the world after the combative eight-year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

At the end of the annual gathering of world leaders in New York, Rouhani spoke with President Obama by phone before his return flight to Tehran. It was the first-ever direct communication between the presidents of the two countries.

That was followed in November by an interim agreement between Iran and world powers over the country’s contested nuclear ambitions. The deal, once implemented, will limit Iran’s nuclear activities while offering economic relief from sanctions.

Lawmakers in Tehran and Washington, however, are skeptical of the deal and have threatened new action that could destroy it before it goes in effect.

Rouhani has said repeatedly that he has the full support of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the nuclear talks, and Khamenei affirmed that position Thursday during a meeting with clerics visiting from the influential seminary city of Qom.

But Khamenei also reiterated what he calls U.S. “enmity against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims.” He said that on certain issues, “if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [the United States] to deter its evil.”

 
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