Rowhani pledges 'change" after clinching Iran presidency

Cleric Hassan Rowhani pledged to bring about "the change" demanded by Iranians after eight years of conservative rule, as he prepared Monday to address the media for the first time since clinching Iran's presidential election.

In one of his first acts after being declared winner of the vote, the 64-year-old Rowhani on Sunday met with supreme leader and ultimate decision-maker Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before heading to pay homage at the mausoleum of late founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Later, speaking before a crowd of supporters, Rowhani expressed hope of bringing about "the change" desired by Iranians, whose lives under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been affected by harsh international economic sanctions imposed to force Tehran to curb its controversial atomic drive.

"God willing, this is the beginning of a move that will bring the change demanded by the people in the fields of economy, culture, social and politics," Rowhani said in remarks reported by the ISNA news agency.

But Iran's woes will not be resolved "overnight," Rowhani said, urging the conservative-dominated parliament to pursue better "cooperation" with the government -- a relationship that was soured during Ahmadinejad's era.

Friday's election, which saw a turnout of nearly 73 percent of some 50.5 million eligible voters, set up the 64-year-old moderate cleric and ex-lead nuclear negotiator to succeed Ahmadinejad in early August.

According to his campaign promises, Rowhani will focus on re-engaging the West over Iran's controversial nuclear drive, while his domestic goals include forming a cabinet of moderates and technocrats, and aiding Iran's poorest classes.

Reinforced by United Nations Security Council sanctions, punitive measures have cost Iran's economy billions in vital oil revenues and foreign investment, leaving the country struggling with raging inflation, high unemployment and a depreciated currency.

According to Rowhani's economic advisor, the key to resolving Iran's economic problems is to negotiate an easing of sanctions while continuing to maintain Iran's nuclear programme.

"Rowhani will use his diplomatic experience to ease the pressure of sanctions by negotiation" with the major powers, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said in remarks reported Monday.

"But this does not mean relinquishing Iran's interests," Nobakht added.

Tehran has been engaged since 2006 in talks with the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany over its nuclear work, but with no breakthrough.

Rowhani, known as the "diplomat sheikh", was Iran's top nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005 during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, when Tehran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment to allay Western fears that the nuclear programme may hide military objectives.

Rowhani defeated his divided conservative rivals by securing the backing of reformists and by promising tactful foreign policy to defuse tensions with the region and the international community, as well as more freedoms at home.

His election drew positive but guarded reaction from the international community, with the United States saying it was prepared to engage Rowhani's administration in direct talks aimed at reaching a "diplomatic solution" to the nuclear standoff.

Russia, which has enjoyed better ties with Tehran than has the United States, also said it was looking forward to enhanced cooperation.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power which has not ruled out a military strike against Tehran, saw little chance of a radical change in Iran's nuclear policy and urged the West to apply continued pressure.

The international community "should not ask too much too soon of Rowhani," warned a Tehran-based diplomat, speaking to AFP.

Rowhani entered the race as an underdog, but saw his stocks rise following strong performances in live televised debates. The sole reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref dropped his bid at the urging of Khatami.

Another former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also endorsed Rowhani in the final days before the vote.

Despite enjoying the vast support of moderates and reformists before his presidency begins in early August, the mid-ranking Shiite cleric is considered a regime insider as he has held senior political posts since the inception of the Islamic republic.