New Iranian leader uses stunning victory to woo West in co-operation plea
Hassan Rowhani, Iran's new president-elect, has used his stunning election victory as a springboard to re-engage the West by calling for "co-operation and free negotiation" in an attempt to end the climate of confrontation created by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As hundreds of thousands of Iranians celebrated in Tehran and other cities, the triumphant candidate spoke of new opportunities "in the international arena" for "those who truly respect democracy and co-operation and free negotiation".
"The nations who tout democracy and open dialogue should speak to the Iranian people with respect and recognise the rights of the Islamic republic," he said in a televised victory speech after a landslide win that saw him capture more than half the vote against five more pro-establishment opponents.
Mr Rowhani – a relatively moderate cleric and formerly Iran's chief nuclear negotiator – made ending the country's international isolation one of his campaign themes as he promised to get rid of the harsh economic sanctions imposed by the West over its suspect uranium enrichment programme.
Dennis McDonagh, the White House chief of staff, said Mr Rowhani's victory was a "hopeful sign", adding that the door was open to talks if he was willing to "come clean" about Iran's nuclear programme. "If (Mr Rowhani) is interested in, as he has said in his campaign, mending Iran's relations with the rest of the world, there is an opportunity to do that," he said.
This contrasted with the scepticism voiced by Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, called for tougher economic sanctions to combat Iranian nuclear activities – which Tel Aviv says are intended to produce a bomb.
"The international community must not become caught up in wishes and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme," Mr Netanyahu told a weekly cabinet meeting.
Amid scenes of euphoria, Mr Rowhani said his presidency would be a departure from Mr Ahmadinejad's governing style, characterised by inflammatory attacks on Israel, repeated denials of the Holocaust and provocations of the West.
"This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill-temper," he said.
As he spoke, supporters danced the lambada in Tehran in improbable scenes that contrasted starkly with the angry demonstrations provoked by Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009, which was followed by weeks of bloody upheaval after allegations of rampant voting fraud.
Mr Rowhani acknowledged that he was now a beacon of hope.
But in an attempt to lower expectations, he warned that there were no quick fixes to Iran's economic plight. "The country's problems won't be solved overnight and this needs to happen gradually and with consultation with experts," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)