President Rouhani of Iran Says He Will Engage With the West – by Thomas Erdbrink


TEHRAN — Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, said Saturday that he would engage with the West and fulfill his electoral promises to allow more freedom for the Iranian people.

Mr. Rouhani, who calls himself a moderate, won the June 14 presidential election by a large margin, surprising many who expected Iran’s governing establishment to block any candidate calling for change. Hinting at the revolutions that have ousted several leaders in the Middle East, Mr. Rouhani emphasized that it was important to listen to the “majority of Iranians.”

“In our region, there were some countries who miscalculated their positions, and you have witnessed what happened to them,” he said during a live broadcast of a conference organized by Voice and Vision, Iran’s state television and radio organization.

“The world is in a transitional mood, and a new order has yet to be established,” he said. “If we miscalculate our national situation, it will be detrimental for us.”

He also said Iran should not hesitate to criticize the Syrian government for some of its actions in its war against rebels seeking to oust it. While Iranian officials have staunchly defended Iran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Mr. Rouhani warned against a double standard in international affairs.

“We should not describe as oppressive brutal actions in an enemy country while refraining from calling the same actions oppressive if they take place in a friendly country,” he said. “Brutality must be called brutality.”

Mr. Rouhani appealed for more moderation in foreign and domestic policies and praised the police for tolerating recent street celebrations over his election victory and for Iran’s soccer team.

He also hinted that he would consider loosening some of the restrictions imposed by the much-loathed morality police, who arrest people for wearing “improper clothing” or not observing Islamic codes strictly. “Happiness is our people’s right,” he said. “We should not be strict toward the people. People follow the morality codes by themselves and are careful about them.”

Mr. Rouhani, who will be sworn in on Aug. 3, reminded those opposing change in Iran that the election was also a referendum on the country’s future.

“The majority of Iranian people voted for moderation, collective wisdom, insight and consultation,” he said. “Everybody should accept the people’s vote — the government should accept the people’s vote. The people have chosen a new path.”

Many Iranians are carefully optimistic about Mr. Rouhani. Last week, Iran’s currency gained strength against the dollar. Business owners said they were hopeful that he would address domestic economic problems and possibly find a way to ease the international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Rouhani also appealed for a more open state news media. “The age of monologue media is over; media should be interactive,” he said. In Iran, millions of Web sites are blocked, and the state news media has a monopoly, while the authorities use radio waves to block satellite transmissions from abroad. “In a country whose legitimacy is rooted in its people, then there is no fear from free media,” he said.