Iran’s president-elect meets conservative elite
Effect of election on nuclear dispute remains unclear
TEHRAN — Hasan Rowhani, the moderate president-elect of Iran, began his first policy consultations Sunday with members of the country’s clerically dominated political establishment, and Western leaders watched for openings to ease tensions over the Iranian nuclear program.
In meetings with political leaders Sunday, Rowhani said Iran’s dire economic problems, which have been caused in part by world sanctions aimed at halting its nuclear ambitions, cannot be solved ‘‘overnight.’’
But there were several outward displays of cooperation by Iran’s establishment after Rowhani’s election. Conservative leaders appear eager to close the political rifts caused by unrest over disputed election results in 2009, and signal that the ruling clerics are not publicly standing against Rowhani’s call for outreach and dialogue with the international community.
In Israel and the United States, where factions have promoted military options against Iran’s nuclear facilities, there were expressions of hope that Rowhani can be a moderate in more than name.
Interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation,’’ White House chief of staff Denis McDonough called on Rowhani to follow through with his plan to improve relations with the West. ‘‘I see it as a potentially hopeful sign,’’ McDonough said.
The Obama administration is expected to press for resumption of direct nuclear talks with Iran in the aftermath of the election.
Rowhani’s surprise victory in Friday’s elections puts him in charge of an executive branch that traditionally has taken the lead in handling the economy, while nuclear efforts, defense, and foreign affairs remain primarily in the hands of the ruling clerics and their powerful protectors, the Revolutionary Guard.
This creates a challenge for Rowhani, as Iran suffers from more than 30 percent inflation as well as 14 percent unemployment, linked to Western sanctions for Tehran’s suspect nuclear program.
Although Rowhani has called for reaching out to the international community, he has little authority over the nuclear activities tied to sanctions.
The semiofficial ISNA agency said the 64-year-old president-elect discussed inflation and unemployment as well as possible members of his Cabinet with Ali Larijani, speaker for Iran’s conservative-dominated Parliament.
‘‘Today, we took the first step for cooperation between two branches of power,’’ Rowhani was quoted as saying. Rowhani, who will take office in August, needs Parliament to approve his proposed nominees for 18 ministries.
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guard declared its willingness to cooperate with the president. ‘‘We announce our comprehensive readiness for interaction and cooperation with the next administration in the framework of legal duties and assignments,’’ the Guard said on its Web page Sunday.
Later in the day, state TV said Rowhani met with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters. The report said Khamenei offered ‘‘necessary guidelines’’ to Rowhani but did not elaborate.
Iran’s stock exchange climbed for a second day, jumping 1,194 points to close at 47,460 — almost a 2.5 percent increase, the exchange’s website said. The dollar was trading at 34,600 rials in foreign currency shops, compared with 36,300 rials on Thursday, the eve of the election.
The rise came after a night of a celebration in Tehran, as the announcement of Rowhani’s victory sent tens of thousands of jubilant supporters into the streets. Cars honked and blared music ranging from patriotic songs to Lambada.
The celebrations reflected the hopes that Rowhani can bring an end to the domination of hard-liners for the past eight years under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with arrests against the opposition and restrictions on rights. Many saw the win as a message to the ruling clerics that they cannot keep the opposition bottled up.
Riot police, who were frequently deployed on Tehran streets in advance of Friday’s vote, were conspicuous in their absence Sunday. State TV showed footage of the celebrations and rebroadcast a speech Rowhani made after his victory was announced Saturday, asserting Iran’s readiness to improve its ties with the world.
Rowhani has been at the nuclear negotiating table before. He was Iran’s envoy beginning in 2003, just a year after Tehran’s revived nuclear efforts were revealed. He has been critical of Iran’s leadership for not showing more nimble tactics and allowing the economic squeeze to become so painful.
During the campaign, Rowhani continually returned to economic woes. ‘‘Which family today doesn’t have someone who isn’t unemployed?’’ he asked. ‘‘If the administration had a plan, couldn’t this be solved?’’
In Israel on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against being lulled by false optimism about the Iranian transition and called for increased sanctions to rein in Iran’s nuclear plans.