Rouhani: Iran has 'serious will' to reach nuclear accord

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DAVOS, Switzerland -- Iran's president said Thursday that his country has a "serious will" to reach a deal that resolves international doubts about its nuclear program, but will not give up what he called peaceful technology nor consent to rules that treat Iran differently from other nations with nuclear know-how.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos as Iran enters six months of intensive talks with world powers over the bounds of a program that the United States, Israel and other nations suspect is aimed at building a nuclear bomb. His speech and a round of media interviews continue a remarkable revamp of Iran's image abroad, led by the smiling multilingual cleric who on Thursday called his political philosophy "prudent moderation."

"We are ready" to make a deal, Mr. Rouhani said. "Of course, this is a long and winding and difficult road. However, if we remain serious and keep the will, we can push through."

The words echo the cautious tone of both President Barack Obama, who gave a deal a 50-50 chance of success last month, and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr. Rouhani's statements about Iran's nuclear ambitions were also familiar. "I strongly and clearly declare that nuclear weapons have no place in our security strategy, and that Iran has no motivation to move in that direction," he said in a brief address before questions from a moderator. Mr. Rouhani would not be specific about whether he would make any outreach to Israel and was vague about what Iran might do to help resolve the civil war in Syria.

Iran's exclusion from the convening of United Nations-backed peace talks on Syria this week briefly shifted world attention away from the long-running nuclear dispute. The United States had opposed Iran's inclusion in the Syria talks and accuses Tehran of prolonging the war. But it was clear this week that the finger-pointing was a sideshow to the nuclear negotiations that both nations see as the highest foreign policy priority.

Iran struck an interim bargain with world powers that eases some sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. A six-month deadline to reach a final deal began this month. The temporary deal does not guarantee that Iran can never build a weapon.

Mr. Kerry appeared to acknowledge as much Thursday, when he told an interviewer that Iran could subvert negotiations by making a drive for a weapon -- just the scenario Israel warns of. But Mr. Kerry added a warning of his own. "If they do this, the military option is ready," he told al-Arabiya television, referring to U.S. capability to strike Iranian nuclear facilities if need be.

Mr. Rouhani was elected with a mandate to try to strike a deal that could lift crushing economic sanctions imposed because of its disputed nuclear program. The kinder, gentler face Mr. Rouhani presents appears part of an effort to explain the Iranian position more widely and win support for what he calls a pragmatic approach to resolving international doubts about the program.

Mr. Rouhani's English-language Twitter account has been a key tool in the international charm offensive. But Iran's tweeting, status-updating president also had some perhaps unwelcome news for his growing digital audience: He doesn't write his own stuff. He told journalists later Thursday that his frequent online postings are "written by my friends."

Many Rouhani postings on Twitter and Facebook are upbeat distillations of Iranian foreign policy, clearly made for an overseas audience. His tweet wishing Jews a happy Rosh Hashana made news last year, since it marked a U-turn from the derogatory remarks about Jews from Mr. Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Rouhani pledged "constructive engagement" with Iran's neighbors, a gesture of political outreach for a Middle East nation that officially considers Israel illegitimate, and whose ambitions and influence have made many Arab neighbors nervous. His main audience, however, seemed to be the throngs of top business executives who come to this Alpine gabfest.

Iran could become one of the world's 10 largest economies over the next 30 years, Mr. Rouhani said. Iran is seeking an end to sanctions that have drastically reduced its oil exports and cut off its access to much of the global financial system. Most sanctions will remain in place during negotiations on a final deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program.

Mr. Rouhani's theme that Iran is "open for business" may be jumping the gun a bit, since U.S. officials estimate that existing sanctions will cost Iran $30 billion just in the six-month time frame for talks. But the prospect of the freer flow of Iranian oil and cash is already yielding potential business deals.

When the initial nuclear deal was announced in November, a parade of mostly European foreign investors began to trickle back into Tehran after years away, and the number of official and unofficial trade delegations continues to grow.

But that real sense that Iran may step out of its long isolation is tempered by the Syria conference and Iran's exclusion. Iranian leaders, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have taken a tougher line than usual since a United Nations invitation to Iran was issued, then revoked this week. Political analysts in Tehran said Mr. Zarif's stance probably has more to do with placating hard-liners at home than any plans to change course.

Both the Rouhani and Obama administrations have gone to great lengths to keep the nuclear and Syrian issues separate. But that may not be possible much longer, analysts said, as Iran's conservative-dominated parliament begins to intertwine what many hard-liners are calling a bad nuclear deal with the snub of not being allowed to take part in the Syria talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not wait for his own Davos forum address Thursday to denounce Mr. Rouhani's remarks as opportunistic. "The goal of the Iranian ayatollahs' regime, which is hiding behind Rouhani's smiles, is to ease sanctions without conceding on their program to produce nuclear weapons," he said in remarks his office distributed.

Mr. Netanyahu's own Davos speech was devoted to advocating international business and manufacturing investment in Israel.



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