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August 04, 2013

Iran's Rouhani Sworn In, Calls for Dialogue

by VOA News

Iran's new president, moderate Muslim cleric Hassan Rouhani, took the oath of office before parliament Sunday, calling for dialogue with the West to reduce "antagonism and aggression."

A day after he was formally endorsed and confirmed in his new role by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, Rouhani said rival nations should "speak to Iran through the language of respect, not the language of sanctions."

He promised to fight corruption and all forms of discrimination, saying Iran's people had demanded reform, change and prosperity though the ballot box.

The 64-year-old cleric easily beat his conservative rivals in June elections. He has pledged to pursue less confrontational policies abroad in order to ease international sanctions on Iran's economy over its nuclear policies.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney responded within hours, saying the United States was ready to work with Rouhani's government if it were serious about engagement.

Iran's new leader will have to deal with huge challenges, including a sagging economy and the outside world's predominantly negative view of Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Rouhani immediately presented a list of Cabinet nominees to parliament. The core of his team has figures with academic degrees from institutions in California, Washington and London.

The president's nominee for foreign minister - Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif - is a respected diplomat involved in negotiations with the United States since the 1980s and well known to top U.S. officials.

Others include officials who served in the administrations of both reformist President Mohammad Khatami and centrist President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Trained as a lawyer in addition to the religious studies he began as a teenager, Rouhani has held senior political posts in Iran for decades, including leading the nation's team of nuclear negotiators for over 15 years (1989-2005).

He is Iran's seventh president, succeeding the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the country's highest elected official.

Iran's supreme leader is the chief of state and gives final approval for major policy decisions.