Rouhani in Davos on Thursday. (AFP)
Davos (Switzerland), Jan. 23: Describing himself as an advocate of “prudent moderation” as he pursued a diplomatic offensive to remould his country’s image today, President Hassan Rouhani said he sought “constructive engagement” with Iran’s neighbours and pledged that his country had no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons.
He was speaking in this Alpine village at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum while, elsewhere in Switzerland, international negotiators sought to persuade Syrian government representatives and their exiled adversaries to sit down face-to-face at peace talks seeking an end to Syria’s nearly three-year civil war.
Iran is a key player in the region’s diplomacy and the principal regional ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
The conciliatory tone of Rouhani’s speech seemed to be designed to pursue an effort to win broad international acceptance for a nation that under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was viewed by western powers as dangerous, unpredictable and disruptive.
John Chipman, head of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Rouhani’s speech was in essence “an application to rejoin the international community”.
“His buzz-terms were ‘prudent moderation’ and constructive engagement,” said Chipman, who was in the audience. “He is saying: trust me as a leader.”
Rouhani referred to recent cooperation with the US and other powers on his country’s nuclear programme as a “major development” and urged American leaders to accept his country’s Islamic revolution as the culmination of a century of struggle for freedom.
“I strongly and clearly state that nuclear weapons have no place in our security strategy and Iran has no motivation to move in that direction,” he said, speaking to a packed auditorium that included some Israeli participants and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who helped negotiate the nuclear breakthrough.
He also expressed Iran’s commitment to a broader nuclear agreement but, in what was taken as a veiled reference to Israeli suspicions, he cautioned that “a possible impediment may be a lack of serious will by the other party or parties or they might be influenced by others”.
“We are ready,” he said. “Of course, this is a long and winding and difficult road. However, if we remain serious and keep the will, we can push through.”
Setting out what seemed to be ambitious goals for his country, whose economy has been battered by years of tightening international sanctions, Rouhani vowed to “overcome all economic and political impediments” to turning Iran into one of the top 10 economies in the world in the space of a decade.
Rouhani was elected as Iran’s President last year, offering a friendlier and more pragmatic vision of his country’s relationship with the West. Since then, Iran has reached an interim agreement with world powers on suspending nuclear enrichment in return for an easing of sanctions — a deal that began to take effect on Monday.
On Sunday, in what appeared to be a diplomatic success for Tehran, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, invited Iran to attend the Syria talks but withdrew the offer a day later after Iranian officials denied that they had agreed to preconditions for their attendance.
Rouhani’s appearance at Davos was the first by an Iranian President since Mohammad Khatami spoke here in 2004.