Dennis Ross, a diplomat who was once the president’s top adviser on Iran, said the administration should quickly put Rouhani’s promises to the test, noting Iran’s rapid gains in nuclear technology.
“Rouhani is coming out of a system that has always cheated,” Ross said. “Their behavior over the years would show there is no basis for simply trusting what they say.”
Rouhani’s past offered some reason for optimism. As Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, he agreed to suspend uranium enrichment in 2003 as a trust-building measure in negotiations with European countries. But he made clear Monday that the situation has since changed, as Iran has expanded its stockpile of enriched uranium and defied a decade of U.N. resolutions urging more transparency on a program that Tehran says is purely for civilian purposes.
Rouhani outlined several preconditions to beginning what he called a “constructive dialogue” with Washington. “First, America must not interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs based on the Algiers Accords,” he said, referring to the agreement that ended the Iran hostage crisis in 1981. “They have to recognize our nuclear rights, put away bullying policies against Iran. And if such, and they have good intent, then the situation will change.”
He also said that relations between the United States and Iran are “complicated and difficult,” adding that any bilateral talks “should be based on mutual respect and from an equal stance.”
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.
While insisting that Tehran would continue to pursue what he described as peaceful nuclear energy, he called for a “more active” phase of international diplomacy, including talks with the six-nation bloc that is seeking to negotiate limits on Iran’s production of enriched uranium.
Rouhani also discussed the conflict in Syria, criticizing the U.S. decision last week to arm rebel groups and giving no sign that Iran would, under his stewardship, 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.”
Rezaian reported from Tehran.