Iran inaugurates new president. Cue the thaw?



Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, takes the oath of office.


Atta Kenare

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took the oath of office and named a cabinet Sunday, saying he wanted Iran's international sanctions lifted to resume talks over its nuclear program.

"The only way for interaction with Iran is dialogue on an equal footing, confidence-building and mutual respect as well as reducing antagonism and aggression," Rouhani said in a speech after taking the oath of office in parliament.

"If you want the right response, don't speak with Iran in the language of sanctions, speak in the language of respect."

He was referring to years of unfruitful negotiations with the so-called P5+1 — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany — over Iran's nuclear activities, which the world powers suspect is aimed at military objectives despite Iranian denials.

Yet with a new man in office, replacing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, expectations are mounting in the West of fresh diplomacy with Iran.

Rouhani's inauguration was the first time foreign delegates have attended an Iranian presidential inauguration since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Dignitaries in Tehran included former European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, Iran's news agency IRNA reported.

Within hours of the swearing-in, the United States said it was ready to work with Rouhani's government if it were serious about engagement.

"The inauguration of President Rouhani presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community's deep concerns over Iran's nuclear program," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States," he said.

Analysts say Rouhani is an Islamic Republic insider but his election raised hopes abroad that he'll be more politically moderate than his predecessor Ahmadinejad.

Many in the West portrayed Ahmadinejad as both populist and pariah during his eight years in office — but there was also talk that he too was moderate compared with Iran's powerful Islamic hard-liners.

Experienced foreign minister nominee

In perhaps another sign he's ready to get down to business, Rouhani immediately presented a list of cabinet nominees to the parliament speaker that included Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as foreign minister.

Parliament must approve the proposed ministers before they can take office and the speaker said the assembly would review the nominees in the next week.

Zarif is a respected diplomat involved in negotiations with the United States since the 1980s and well known to top US officials including Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

With reports by Reuters and Agence France-Presse.