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At Davos, Rouhani says Iran is open for business

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to reassure business and political leaders that Iran was committed to a nuclear deal that will lead to a lifting of damaging sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to Davos this week to say that a comprehensive nuclear deal is attainable, and that Iran is open for investment. 

The two are deeply entwined: Only when a deal is reached will the bulk of sanctions be lifted, enabling Iran’s economy to rebuild after years of stagnation. 

The first Iranian president in more than a decade to join business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum, Mr. Rouhani said today that Iran had “a strong will, a serious will” to build on the interim nuclear deal signed in Geneva last November and to conclude a final deal with world powers that limits Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s engagement with the rest of the world is based on “prudent moderation,” Rouhani said, which could resolve the nuclear issue and improve US-Iran ties, as well as turn Iran into an economic powerhouse within three decades that would be a linchpin of global energy security.

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The most painful sanctions on oil exports, Iran’s central bank, and financial transactions all remain in place, pending a final nuclear deal.

“What we have achieved is not merely a temporary agreement on a specific issue, but a prelude to future agreements and engagement,” said Rouhani of the interim nuclear agreement that started last Monday with Iran suspending its most sensitive nuclear work in exchange for modest sanctions relief.

Rouhani said he did not see “any impediment” from Iran’s side to striking a final nuclear deal with the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany). He added that “a possible impediment may be a lack of serious will by the other party or parties, or they might be pressured or influenced by others.”

This is Rouhani’s second high-profile step onto the world stage as president, after the UN General Assembly in September, where he declared that his election victory the previous June presented a “unique opportunity for us all.”

That visit – which included first-time direct talks between top American and Iranian diplomats and was capped by a historic phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama – swept across UN diplomatic circles. Mr. Obama said in his UN speech that the US was not after “regime change” in Iran, and respected “the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.”

In Davos today, Rouhani said the US should “match words with actions,” and noted that such contacts were a “major development” since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

“Engagement between Iran and the United States has entered a new phase during the past months, and for the first time politicians from both countries have negotiated, exchanged views and have made decisions to resolve differences,” said Rouhani.

When asked about US-Iran relations upon his arrival in Davos on Wednesday, Rouhani said: “No animosity lasts eternally, no friendship either lasts eternally. So we have to turn animosities to friendship.” 

“This effort is necessary to create confidence on both sides,” Rouhani told Swiss RTS television. “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.” 

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In his speech, Rouhani repeated his pledge that Iran “will never seek nuclear weapons,” and that the bomb “has no place in our security strategy.” He also noted that some 40 nations had the capacity to enrich uranium, and said that Iran would not accept “discrimination,” nor “any obstacles to its scientific progress.” Before his speech, Rouhani met privately with executives from major oil companies. 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in constructive cooperation for promoting global energy security, drawing on its vast oil and gas resources,” said Rouhani. “Nobody can live on their own; no nation, no country, can resolve their problems on their own.”