Newly inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday he is prepared to begin "serious and substantive" negotiations with western powers over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, 74, remains in charge of national security issues, including the nuclear program, but Rouhani's comments may present another opportunity for diplomatic engagement.
Rouhani's statement came as European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sent an open letter to the president, inviting him to restart nuclear talks that have for years failed to produce any real progress.
“Mr. President, I write to tell you that, together with the E3+3, I stand ready to continue talks to find a resolution as quickly as possible,” Ashton wrote. “I hope that we can schedule meaningful talks with your negotiating team as soon as practicable.”
The E3+3 is a group of nations that includes France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and the United States.
Rouhani's official Twitter account clarified some points:
Western-led sanctions aimed at Iran's oil exports have crippled the country's economy, increasing inflation and destroying the value of its currency, the rial. Rouhani has vowed to solve Iran's economic woes left behind by his more conservative predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"I want to restore hope to the Iranian people and fix the economy and get rid of these cruel sanctions," Rouhani said Monday, adding that his government would act transparently.
The White House released a statement signaling its desire to use Rouhani's inauguration as an opportunity to begin talks to "resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program."
"Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States," the statement said.
Many western powers assert Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons-related technology, and that Tehran is using negotiations as a stalling tactic. Iran denies these charges and maintains that it needs nuclear power for energy and medical purposes.
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