Iran’s president-elect Hasan Rohani ruled out on Monday any halt to the nuclear activity that has drawn UN sanctions but said he hoped an early deal could be reached to allay the concerns of major powers.
The moderate cleric, who won outright victory in Friday’s presidential election, pledged greater transparency in the long-running talks.
Rohani, addressing his first Press conference since winning the vote, said there would be no change in Iran’s longstanding alliance with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad that has been the source of additional Western concern.
But he said he would seek to thaw relations with the key Gulf Arab backers of the rebels fighting to oust Assad’s regime for more than two years.
Rohani, who led the nuclear negotiating team under reformist former president Mohammad Khatami from 2003-05, said there could be no return to the moratorium on uranium enrichment that Iran accepted at the time.
“This period is over,” he said.
The 64-year-old Rohani said that the EU and US sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors that have sent the economy into freefall were unjust but promised transparent talks to try to resolve the underlying issues.
Iran will be “more transparent to show that its activities fall within the framework of international rules,” he said.
“The idea is to engage in more active negotiations.”
Britain, one of the powers involved in the Iran nuclear talks, warned Rohani that he should be in no doubt about the West’s resolve.
Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament he hoped Tehran would now “engage seriously”.
“The government hopes that following Dr Rohani’s election, the Iranian government will take up the opportunity of a new relationship with the international community by making every effort to reach a negotiated settlement on the nuclear issue,” he said.
“If Iran is ready to make that choice, we are ready to respond in good faith.”
Rohani has repeatedly promised to restore diplomatic relations with the United States, broken off more than three decades ago after the storming of the US embassy in Tehran.
He has also expressed readiness for bilateral talks with Washington to allay its concerns that Tehran’s nuclear programme is cover for a drive for a weapons capability. But he said those talks could not be without conditions.
“The US should not interfere in our internal affairs, recognise the rights of Iran including nuclear rights and stop its unilateral policies and pressure,” he said.
“The next government will not give up the legitimate rights of the country.”
On a visit to Iran’s western neighbour Iraq on Monday, the chief negotiator of the major powers, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said she would take Rohani up on his promise of more constructive engagement.
“The priority of my government is to strengthen relations with neighbours... the countries of the Arabian Gulf and Arab ones that are of strategic importance and our brothers,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia is a brother and neighbour... with which we have historic, cultural and geographical relations.”
But he said there would be no let-up in Iran’s support for its longstanding ally, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, to appease Gulf states that back the rebels.
He told supporters on Monday that he would do all in his power to bring about “the change” they desired after eight years of conservative domination under outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“God willing, this is the beginning of a move that will bring the change demanded by the people,” he said, cautioning that that could not happen “overnight.”