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Iran’s president-elect talks of easing tensions with US

Rowhani says win has changed image in world

TEHRAN — President-elect Hasan Rowhani, speaking Monday for the first time since his election victory, said he wanted to reduce tensions with the United States but ruled out direct talks between the two estranged nations.

In his first news conference after winning Friday’s presidential election, with a campaign promising more freedoms and better relations with the outside world, Rowhani called the issue of nonexistent relations between Iran and the United States “an old wound, which must be healed.”

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Iran, he said, wants to reduce tensions between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are at odds over the nature of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Echoing similar statements from the departing administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rowhani said no direct talks would occur until the United States stops “interfering in Iran’s domestic politics,” respects what he called Iran’s nuclear rights, and lifts economic sanctions.

Rowhani, who will take office Aug. 3, offered greater openness concerning Iran’s nuclear program, saying that was his way of working to end the sanctions that have severely damaged the Iranian economy.

Rowhani offered no details Monday on what the new transparency might entail, but his aides have said he proposed an accord in 2005 to allow Iran to enrich uranium in exchange for the highest level of monitoring by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency. The deal did not gain support from other countries, such as Britain and the United States.

“All should know that the next government will not budge from defending our inalienable rights,” Rowhani told reporters.

He emphasized that like those of his predecessors, his government would not be prepared to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran has always contended that its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes, rejecting Western suspicions that the country is seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons.

“First, we are ready to increase transparency and clarify our measures within the international framework,” he said.

“Of course our activities are already transparent, but still we increase it,” Rowhani said. “Second, we will increase the trust between Iran and the world.”

Underlining the effects of the sanctions, Rowhani said he was working with the departing government to prevent food shortages.

“People are in instant need of basic staples,” he said. The government would increase domestic production in order to stabilize prices and rising unemployment, he said without elaborating.

The cleric, who is nicknamed the “diplomat sheik” in Iran for his white turban and pragmatic streak, said his victory and the high turnout in Friday’s election had altered how other countries view Iran.

“On a global level, our image has changed,” he said. “The atmosphere in the global opinion has changed, and this provides new opportunities for us.”

He paid special attention to Iran’s neighbors, especially the Persian Gulf kingdoms that reduced relations under presidency, and singled out Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, which supports rebels in Syria while Iran supports the government of President Bashar Assad.

“We are not only neighbors but also brothers,” he said.

On Syria, he made the same points offered by Iranian diplomats, including that the Syrian people should decide their own fate through next year’s presidential election.

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