Iran's Rohani: After Ahmadinejad, Nation Wants Foreign Policy Change

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Iran's new president Hassan Rohani said Saturday that his countrymen elected him to change the country's foreign policy and shift away from the bombastic style adopted under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rohani said his government will adjust its tactics to reach out to world powers. But he said the Islamic Republic will retain its principles.

"We don't have the right to use foreign policy to chant slogans or clap," Rohani said.

"Foreign policy is not where one can speak or take a position without paying attention," he said during the inauguration of Iran's new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. "People in the June 14 elections declared that they want a new foreign policy," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

Rohani has pledged to follow a policy of moderation and ease tensions with the outside world. He has also vowed to improve an economy ravaged by international sanctions and mismanagement by empowering technocrats.

He won a landslide victory in June 14 presidential elections, defeating his conservative rivals. Rohani took the oath of office on August 4 and Iran's parliament approved all but three of his proposed ministers Thursday.

The core of Rohani's team includes figures whose academic pedigrees run through places such as California, Washington, Paris and London. Rohani himself studied in Scotland, while Zarif is a U.S.-educated veteran diplomat with a doctorate in international law and policy from the University of Denver.

Rohani said he hopes Zarif's expertise and years of experience in dealing with Americans as Iran's top UN envoy will help his government understand the American way of thinking. Zarif worked with Rohani back when the president was Iran's top nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005.

"Reconsidering foreign policy doesn't mean a change in principles because principles remain unchanged," Rohani said. "But change in the methods, performance and tactics, which are the demands of the people, must be carried out."

It remains unclear how much Rohani's team can influence Iranian policies and foster potential outreach diplomacy, such as direct talks with the U.S. or possible breakthroughs in wider negotiations over Tehran's suspect nuclear program.

Nuclear policy remains under the control of the country's top clerics. The West accuses the nuclear program of pursuing weapons technology, while Iran says it is for peaceful purposes.

Rohani said Iran suffered from rhetoric used under Ahmadinejad and his government will distance from his predecessor's slogans.

Ahmadinejad used to call UN Security Council resolutions "worthless papers" and "annoying flies, like a used tissue." He also used to call for U.S. leaders to be "buried" in response to American threats of military attack against Tehran's nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Rohani appointed caretaker ministers to replace two of the three of his nominees who were rejected by parliament. Jafar Towfighi will be caretaker minister for science, research and technology and Reza Salehi Amiri will be caretaker minister of sports and youth.

Rohani doesn't need parliamentary approval for the temporary appointments, but after three months will need to submit new nominees for the permanent post for a vote of confidence.

Iranian president Hassan Rohani speaks in parliament on August 15, 2013.Credit: AP

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