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Rouhani Urges End to Iran's Isolation

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FLE - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani briefs media prior to departing Mehrabad airport to attend the United Nations General Assembly, in Tehran, Iran.

FLE - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani briefs media prior to departing Mehrabad airport to attend the United Nations General Assembly, in Tehran, Iran.

Speaking at an economic conference, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressed that his country's economy cannot have sustainable growth and development in isolation from the rest of the world.

"We want a sustainable, comprehensive and continued development. It is not possible to say we want economic development but want to be politically restrictive," said Rouhani, speaking at Iran's first National Economy Conference in Tehran.

The two-day conference, attended by top Iranian officials, economic experts, university professors, scholars and private sector investors, sought to find solutions for sustained economy, tackling unemployment and supplying financial resources for internal projects.

International sanctions

Iran is engaged in long-running negotiations with the P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany), aimed at a comprehensive deal over its disputed nuclear program.

The main conflict in the talks is over uranium enrichment. The world powers accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying it is developing its nuclear program for peaceful energy purposes.

A key point in any agreement would be the lifting of wide-ranging sanctions - imposed on Iran as punishment for its atomic activities.

Rouhani's speech came two weeks before the next round of nuclear talks on January 15 in Geneva.

Rescue the economy

Rouhani called for curbs on the state's involvement in business and an end to Tehran's international isolation on Sunday to help rescue an economy hurt by sanctions, corruption and mismanagement.

His speech appeared to be critical of hardliners who oppose his efforts to deliver Iran from years of erratic economic management by the previous administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Our economy will not prosper as long as it is monopolized (by the government). The economy must be rid of monopoly and see competition,” he said. “It must be freed of insider speculation, be transparent, all people must be aware of the statistics. If we can bring transparency to our economy, we can fight corruption.

“Our political life has shown we can't have sustainable growth while we are isolated," Rouhani said.

Rouhani suggested foreign investors should go to Iran and Iranian investors should go abroad to "strengthen our national security."

"The time is past when it used to be said that if a foreign investor comes to Iran, our independence will be in danger," he added.

Rouhani, a pragmatist, was elected in 2013 in part on pledges to resolve the nuclear standoff and end crippling sanctions.

Wary of negotiations

Powerful anti-Western hawks in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who report to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have been wary of the nuclear negotiations and some preside over companies whose grip on the economy had grown during sanctions.

Rouhani's call is in line with his preference for a greater public say on strategic matters, traditionally vested with Khamenei.

Rouhani appealed to the economists for solutions on how to improve the state's handling of subsidies, taxes, debt and the financial system.

He also suggested he supported a resolution passed by parliament in December to tax organizations overseen by Khamenei and the armed forces, an unusual move by the legislature to regulate areas dominated by the most powerful figures in the country.

“We are trying to tax everyone across the board, but as soon as we touch this or that institution, they make such a stink about it,” Rouhani said, apparently referring to the resolution, which has been opposed by Islamic hardliners.

“Of course this government will do what it deems in people's interest,” he said. He added without elaborating: “Just be aware that in some cases, the domestic political lobby is very strong, very strong, more than you think.”

Material for this report came from Reuters, AFP and AP.

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