Iran’s new president says U.S. outreach possible if ‘our nuclear rights’ are respected

EPA - A supporter of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani holds a poster dipicting him during street festivities right after the official announcement of his victory, Tehran, Iran, 15 June 2013.

TEHRAN — In his first news conference since being elected president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani said Monday that he wants to improve his country’s relations with the United States, but not at the expense of Iran’s nuclear program.

Calling the 34-year-old diplomatic freeze between Washington and Tehran “an old wound that must be treated,” Rouhani outlined several preconditions to beginning what he called a “constructive dialogue.”

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“First, America must not interfere in Iran domestic affairs based on the Algiers Accord. They have to recognize our nuclear rights, put away bullying policies against Iran,” Rouhani said. “And if such, and they have good intent, then the situation will change.”

He also said relations between the United States and Iran are “complicated and difficult,” adding that any talks with the United States “should be based on mutual respect and from an equal stance.”

Taking questions at the Center for Strategic Studies, a foreign-policy think tank he runs, Rouhani offered a preview of an administration that could have a starkly different approach than that of his controversial predecessor, outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani, a cleric, was the surprise winner of elections Friday after a campaign in which he pledged to bolster Iran’s sagging economy and improve its international standing.

On Sunday, Rouhani said he had made his first policy-shaping move by discussing economic woes and living conditions with Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s majority-conservative parliament.

Rouhani, who is considered a moderate and was supported by the leaders of the reform movement that was derailed by Ahmadinejad’s 2005 election, did not back down at the news conference from Iran’s controversial nuclear program, even as he expressed hope in expanding Iran’s negotiations and interactions with the outside world.

Iran has no plans to suspend uranium enrichment, Rouhani said, adding: “Those days are behind us.” But he said that he hoped negotiations with the group of countries known as P5+1 would become “more active” under his administration.

Rouhani also discussed the conflict in Syria, criticizing recent decisions by the United States and others to arm rebel groups and giving no sign that Iran under his stewardship would retract its support for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The final decision maker for Syria is the Syrian people,” Rouhani said. “Of course, we are against terrorism and foreign intervention. We hope that with the help of all countries, peace returns to Syria.”

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