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White House: Iran's New President Can Find a Partner in the U.S.

Iran's new president will find a partner in the U.S. if he comes clean on the nuclear program, says Obama's Chief of Staff.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 6/17/2013, 5:13 AM

Hassan Rowhani
Hassan Rowhani
AFP photo

Iran's new president will find a partner in the United States if he comes clean on the Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear program, a senior White House official said Sunday, according to the AFP news agency.

Hassan Rowhani, who is considered a “moderate”, was elected as Iran’s new president Friday, ending eight years of a conservative grip on the office marked by tension with the West over Tehran's atomic drive.

"If he is interested in... mending Iran's relations with the rest of the world, there's an opportunity to do that," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was quoted as having told CBS News's "Face the Nation."

"If he lives up to his obligations under the UN Security Council resolution to come clean on this illicit nuclear program, he will find a partner in us, and there will be an opportunity for that," said McDonough.

McDonough said that if Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator who has promised a more constructive approach to talks, lives up to obligations linked to the program, then "there's a great opportunity for Iran, and the people of that storied country, to have the kind of future that they would, I think, justifiably want."

On Saturday, the White House said it was prepared to engage Iran "directly" over its nuclear program in order to reach a "diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community's concerns."

It also said the election was held amid lack of transparency, censorship of the media, the Internet and text messages, and "an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly," according to AFP.

McDonough referenced those "difficult circumstances" Sunday, adding, "I think we should all be quite proud of the way that Iranians turned out to vote and to express their democratic views and aspirations."

Rowhani, who succeeds Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Sunday hailed his own win as a victory over "extremism."

World powers have offered a cautious welcome to Rowhani, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging Iran to play a "constructive role" in regional and international affairs.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was committed to working with Rowhani to find a "swift diplomatic solution" on finding a solution to the disputed nuclear program.

Rowhani, who was the country’s nuclear negotiator under former president Mohammad Khatami, recently accused his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of needlessly incurring crippling economic sanctions.

Israel issued an unusually blunt reaction to the election of Iran's new president on Saturday by saying it was supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who decides on nuclear policy, not the president.

International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio on Sunday that “the results are a credit to the Iranian people, but the question is whether the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei -- who actually manages the foreign affairs, national security and Iran’s nuclear program – change the country’s path and behavior?

“I doubt it,” Steinitz went on to say. “But if it changes, it will only be in response to increased pressure.”