Jerusalem and Washington differed on Sunday over the significance of Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration, with Washington ready to work with Iran
and Jerusalem warning that the new regime – like the old – is a threat to world
Rouhani, who won Iran’s presidential elections in June, took the
oath of office on Sunday and replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
inauguration of President Rouhani presents an opportunity for Iran to act
quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s
nuclear program,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement shortly
after Rouhani was sworn in.
“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,” he said.
The US hoped the new Iranian government would “heed the
will of the voters by making choices that will lead to a better life for the
Iranian people,” Carney said.
This conciliatory tone was at odds with the
tone coming from Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu again urged
the world not to be “taken in” by Rouhani’s perceived moderation.
Friday, the Iranian president said that Israel ‘has been a wound on the body of
the Islamic world,’” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet
“The president of Iran has been replaced, but the goal of the
regime has not been replaced, it remains as it was,” he continued. “Iran’s
intention is to develop a nuclear capability and nuclear weapons in order to
destroy the State of Israel, and this constitutes a danger not only to us and
the Middle East, but the entire world, and we are all committed to prevent
Rouhani, meanwhile, has picked a cabinet of experienced
technocrats for his government, saying he hoped confidence-building with foreign
powers would help resolve the nuclear dispute and ease international
“The only way for interaction with Iran is dialogue on an equal footing, confidence-building and mutual respect, as well as reducing
antagonism and aggression,” Rouhani said in a speech after taking the oath of
office in parliament.
“If you want the right response, don’t speak with
Iran in the language of sanctions; speak in the language of respect,” he
Signaling his wish to get straight down to work, Rouhani
immediately presented his list of cabinet nominees to the parliament speaker
even though he has two weeks to do so.
Parliament must approve the
proposed ministers before they can take office. The speaker said the assembly
would review the nominees in the coming week.
Rouhani picked Iran’s
former ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as foreign
minister. Zarif is a respected diplomat, well known to top US officials
including Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
overtures to the West would have to be approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who
has maintained a staunchly anti- Western stance since becoming Iran’s supreme
leader in 1989.
Rouhani chose Bijan Zanganeh to return to the post of oil
minister, which he held from 1997 to 2005.
Though he worked at the time
under the reformist government of president Mohammad Khatami, Zanganeh is a
nonpartisan technocrat thought to enjoy the protection of Khamenei. As oil
minister, he helped to attract billions of dollars of foreign investment into
Iran’s oil and gas sector. But that was before the imposition of stringent
sanctions on the industry.
Ali Tayyeb-Nia, Rouhani’s choice to head the
Economy Ministry, has held government positions during the presidencies of
reformist Khatami, centrist Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and
Tayyeb-Nia is an economist who has specialized in the study
of inflation, which Rouhani said last month stood at an annual 42 percent and
must be reduced to bring a measure of economic relief to
Meanwhile, 76 US senators signed a letter sent to US President
Barack Obama on Friday calling on the White House to toughen sanctions on
In the letter, the large Senate group told the president that time
for diplomacy was quickly running out.
“Iran has used negotiations in the
past to stall for time,” the senators warned, noting Rouhani’s former role as
the regime’s nuclear negotiator. “And in any event, Khamenei is the ultimate
decisionmaker for Iran’s nuclear program.”
The senators sought a “renewed
sense of urgency” to the matter.
“We need to understand quickly whether
Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously,” they said. “Iran needs to
understand that the time for diplomacy is nearing its end.”
Wednesday the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 400 to 20, in favor
of a punishing new sanctions package targeting Iran’s oil sector. The letter
signaled strong Senate support for the bill, which is expected to come before
the upper house for approval in late September.
Senators Robert Menendez,
a Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham,
a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, spearheaded the letter