DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday it would be possible to turn more than three decades of enmity with the United States into friendship if both sides were to make an effort.
He was speaking in a Swiss television interview after arriving at the World Economic Forum in Davos where he will court the global business community and meet a series of oil company executives on Thursday.
Asked whether there could one day be a U.S. embassy again in Tehran instead of the Swiss embassy representing U.S. interests in Iran, the president told public RTS television: "No animosity lasts eternally, no friendship either lasts eternally. So we have to transform animosities into friendship."
An interim deal with six major powers, including the United States, to restrict Iran's disputed nuclear program in exchange for a partial easing of economic sanctions entered into force this week.
Rouhani traveled to Davos to persuade foreign investors to return to his country, which has some of the world's biggest oil and gas resources and a market of 76 million people.
In the interview, in which he spoke in Farsi voiced over into French, he said relations with Washington had been difficult in the past, but with hard work and efforts by both sides, problems could be overcome.
"This effort is necessary to create confidence on both sides. Iran is in fact stretching out its hand in peace and friendship to all countries of the world and wants friendly, good relations with all countries in the world," said the president.
Skeptical about Syria
He made no mention of the more difficult negotiations that lie ahead to conclude a permanent agreement on Iran's nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing weapons. He poured cold water on a U.N.-sponsored peace
conference on the civil war in Syria, however, which opened Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. A key ally of Damascus, Iran was was excluded from the talks after refusing to endorse the goal of a transition from President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
"Reaching a conclusion will be very difficult, but my wish is that if all efforts go in the direction of the wishes of the Syrian people, that is the direction that should prevail," said Rouhani. "As to whether this conference can achieve its objectives, I
have a lot of doubt," he added.
Rouhani accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of backing "terrorists" in Syria in an effort to extend their own influence in the Middle East.
Rouhani will give a short speech on Thursday to chief executives from oil majors such as Eni, BP, Total and Shell, according to several executives who meet in Davos.
Heads of U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil also could attend, the executives said. Tehran wants Western oil companies to revive its giant aging oilfields, and to develop new oil and gas fields once sanctions are lifted. It is improving its oil investment contract in order to lure them in.
The major OPEC producer has started implementing a nuclear deal with world powers, a step toward a broad settlement that could lead to the end of sanctions.
Western sanctions imposed over the nuclear program have choked Tehran's production - output is down a million barrels per day (bpd) since the start of 2012 to 2.7 million bpd - costing billions in lost revenue.
Top Iranian officials say the country can raise production to four million bpd within six months of sanctions being lifted.
Western experts are more conservative, saying three million to 3.5 million bpd is more likely. Encouraged by the preliminary nuclear deal struck between Iran and Western powers in November, Tehran and Big Oil have wasted no time making contact, in the hope of a full lifting of sanctions.
Paolo Scaroni of Italy's Eni was the first Western CEO to meet publicly with Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last month.