Iran’s Rohani pledges moderation as he prepares for inauguration

Iranian President Hassan Rohani pledged to take a moderate approach to governing the Middle East country as he prepared to take the oath of office before legislators today.

The government “needs to distance itself from extremism in policy making and management, and rely on rule of law,” Rohani said in Tehran yesterday, when he won the endorsement of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to start his four-year term. Rohani, 64, succeeds Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who first took office in 2005.

The Scottish-educated cleric was elected in June on pledges to improve Iran’s economy and world standing, and enters office as the country experiences its worst political and economic isolation in two decades. The economy is hampered by accelerating inflation and a weakened currency resulting from sanctions spearheaded by the U.S. in an effort to curbIran’s nuclear program.

“Moderation does not mean moving away from principles,” but acting with “cautiousness,” Rohani said, while emphasizing that he’ll seek the removal of “brutal sanctions.”

Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s highest authority, praised Rohani’s past service and backed his approach to foreign policy. In his first press conference after being elected, Rohani said he would seek to make the nuclear program more transparent and improve relations with Western nations, including the U.S.

Nuclear Program

“I approve of the prudent approach,” Khamenei told top officials. “We need to take action wisely and prudently.”

The U.S. and its allies accuse the Persian Gulf nation of seeking to build nuclear weapons, while Iran maintains that its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes. Rohani has backed Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program at the same time that he criticized Ahmadinejad’s confrontational style on the issue.

Khamenei’s acknowledgement of Rohani’s rhetoric and lauding of his previous work were notable, according to Cliff Kupchan, director for the Middle East at New York-based political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

The leader “is aware of how the nation voted, and he has to deal with a president with a mandate,” Kupchan said. “Whether he thinks this is making lemonade out of lemons or whether he sees a real opportunity here, only time will tell, but he made every effort to show that he’s in step with the new president.”

Solidarity Rally

Rohani took a milder tone toward Israel on Aug. 2 at an annual state-sponsored rally in solidarity with Palestinians, calling the nation a “wound” in the Middle East. Ahmadinejad questioned the Holocaust and called Israel a “cancerous tumor.”

The president may be able to challenge Iran’s status quo because he is a “centrist,” saidTrita Parsi, author of “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran,” and president of the National Iranian-American Council in Washington.

“His political center of gravity is at the center,” Parsi said yesterday in an e-mail. “He enjoys good relations with most elements within the Iranian power structure, from the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps to the clergy to the various political factions.”

Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries a year ago, now ranks sixth as sanctions limit investment and hinder its ability to export oil. Inflation reached 36 percent in June and a quarter of all Iranians aged 15 to 29 were unemployed in the last Iranian year ended March 20, according to official figures.

Rohani will be sworn in before parliament today and foreign leaders have been invited, a break with tradition that may help to underline the president’s vow to improve relations with other nations. At least 11 foreign presidents will attend, the state-run Mehr news agency reported July 31, citing the Iranian parliament’s office of international affairs.

By Bloomberg

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