Rohani: Iran-Europe relations to be normalized with nuclear accord

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Iranian President Hassan Rohani, center, sits next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif during the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 22, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Eric Piermont)

Published Thursday, January 23, 2014

Updated at 3:30pm: Iran's President Hassan Rohani said Thursday relations with Europe would be normalized once an interim nuclear accord is implemented, as the Iranian leader sought to drum up investment for his sanctions-hit economy amid thawing relations with the West.

Rohani added that Iran was negotiating with the United States as part of a "constructive engagement" with the world community and is seeking actions from Washington to back up its words.

An interim deal with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - known as the P5+1 - came into force this week. This granted Iran a limited easing of the sanctions in return for temporary constraints on its uranium enrichment and nuclear development.

Rohani stressed his commitment to achieving a final settlement. "Iran has a serious will to come to an agreement with the P5+1," he told the assembled business and political leaders. "I do not see a serious impediment in the way of this agreement. The Iranian will is strong."

Asked what might prevent a long-term settlement, he cited the risk of "pressure from other parties" - a veiled reference to Israel, which denounced the interim deal as an "historic mistake" and urged the US Congress to resist it.

"I hereby announce that one of the theoretical and practical priorities of my government is constructive engagement with the world," Rohani said.

The Iranian delegation took center stage at the Davos World Economic Forum, with Rohani leading a delegation that includes Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh to the snow-covered Swiss ski resort.

The Davos meeting, which brings together 2,500 of the world's business and political elite, is an important opportunity for Iran "for both economic reasons as well as explaining our political views," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

Iran presented a new, attractive investment model for oil contracts to start by September as it is keen to win back Western business, Rohani and Zanganeh told some of the world's most powerful oil executives in Davos.

Three oil executives who were at the meeting and spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity said Iran had stressed the importance of fossil fuel, with global energy demand rising.

"It was an impressive presentation," one of the oil executives said.

The focus of the summit, which 40 world leaders are slated to attend, shifts to the powder keg of the Middle East on Thursday with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expected to address delegates just hours after Rohani.

Officials have played down the chances of a meeting between the pair but stranger things have happened in the cushy corridors of Davos, where world leaders mingle freely with celebs, CEOs and ministers in a more relaxed atmosphere than usual summits.

Rohani called for cooperation with all Iran's neighbors but did not mention Gulf rival Saudi Arabia by name and refused, when pressed twice, to include Israel among states with which Iran sought friendly relations.

Netanyahu, who was not in the hall during the speech, said in a statement: "Rohani continues Iran's deception show.

"The goal of the Iranian ayatollahs' regime, that hides behind Rohani's smile, is to ease sanctions without giving up their program to produce nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said, urging the international community "not to be duped".

Rohani himself announced on Twitter that he was to have bilateral meetings with officials from other countries.

In a telling symbol of the unique nature of the Davos summit's ability to bring foes together, the official jets of Iran and Israel were photographed together at Zurich airport as the leaders headed up the slopes.

The bloody civil war in Syria is bound to feature heavily in discussions, with peace talks between the Damascus government and opposition taking place nearby in the Swiss town of Montreux.

Before making the trip to Davos, Rohani said the Syria talks, known as Geneva II, were doomed to fail.

"All the signs show that we cannot have much hope that the Geneva II conference will find a solution to the problems of the Syrian people and the fight against terrorism," the Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.

Tehran has staunchly supported the government of President Bashar al-Assad during the conflict that began in 2011 and is estimated to have left more than 100,000 people dead.

The United Nations, which is sponsoring the Montreux talks, abruptly withdrew its invitation to Iran to attend after Tehran refused to back calls for a transitional government to put an end to the bloodshed.

The United States said Wednesday that Iran's absence from Syria peace talks would have no impact on the nuclear deal being brokered between Tehran and world powers.

"We have been very clear and the Iranians, I think, have been clear, certainly in our discussions, that these are separate issues," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

"We've clearly had credible disagreements over Syria throughout the entire nuclear negotiating process. That really is separate. I think both we and the Iranians probably have a desire to keep them separate," she added.

Conflict in the region will undoubtedly be the focus of the speech by Egypt's interim prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi who is due to brief Davos on "the developments shaping Egypt's political and economic agenda during its current transition."

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)


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