YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formally ascends to office

Hassan Rouhani, who will be sworn in Sunday, gets the official backing of the supreme leader for the transfer of power from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

August 03, 2013|By Ramin Mostaghim and Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Hassan Rouhani, left, shakes hands with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday, when Rouhani was formally endorsed by Iran's supreme leader as its new president.
Hassan Rouhani, left, shakes hands with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari… (Office of Iranian Presidency )

TEHRAN — Hassan Rouhani became the seventh president of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Saturday, officially receiving the endorsement of the nation's supreme leader at a formal ceremony here in the capital.

Rouhani, 64, a cleric considered a moderate pragmatist, replaced outgoing two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was barred from seeking a third term. Rouhani was elected in June in a surprise landslide victory.

Rouhani's formal inauguration and swearing-in was scheduled for Sunday, but Saturday marked the new president's ascension to office.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, formally endorsed Rouhani as president during a nationally televised ceremony attended by much of Iran's inner circle. Khamenei has the last say on matters of state in Iran's theocratic system.

Noticeably absent Saturday was former President Mohammad Khatami, considered the leader of Iran's so-called reformist bloc, which is deeply at odds with the conservative hard-liners who dominate the government. Khatami, viewed with extreme distrust by hard-liners, endorsed Rouhani's candidacy.

The ex-president's absence Saturday is an indication of the difficult balancing task facing Rouhani, who galvanized reformist support in his electoral victory but must avoid alienating powerful conservative blocs.

The supreme leader kissed Rouhani on the cheek, embraced him and patted him on the shoulders, flashing a smile. The two are old friends, but there have been reports of tension over Rouhani's perceived drift toward the reformist camp.

Rouhani is a longtime Islamic Republic insider and former parliament member and national nuclear negotiator. But he faces some major challenges, most notably: keeping his promise to turn around the nation's free-falling economy. He has also vowed to improve Iran's relations with other nations and work for the release of political prisoners.

In his speech, Rouhani warned that it could take some time to solve Iran's many problems, especially to reverse its economic tailspin. The nation suffers from a high unemployment rate and galloping inflation, problems exacerbated in part by U.S.-backed international sanctions tied to the nation's controversial nuclear program.

"There's a long way to our destination, and we just started our journey," Rouhani said. "Let's have peace and love and friendship, instead of enmity and antagonism."

In keeping with a campaign pledge, the new president vowed to work to remove the "brutal" international sanctions that target Iran's economy and hamper its access to the international banking sector and its ability to sell oil, the nation's primary export. But there was no mention during Saturday's ceremony of Iran's nuclear program, the underlying cause of the sanctions.

Iran says its nuclear efforts are solely for peaceful purposes. The United States and other Western powers believe that Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The new president again emphasized his moderate stance, deliberately distancing himself from Ahmadinejad's provocative style.

The outgoing president, a self-styled populist who has lost favor with many Iranians, sat on the dais, stone-faced, for much of Saturday's ceremony. At one point, in a choreographed move, he handed an official presidential authorization document to the supreme leader, who gave it to Rouhani, symbolizing the transfer of power.

Sitting next to Rouhani was former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a longtime mentor of the new president who threw his electoral support behind his protege when his own presidential comeback attempt was blocked by hard-liners.

As during his campaign, Rouhani seemed to link prospective economic improvement to greater engagement with the world and the ending of sanctions. Until the presidential campaign, Iranian officials had publicly downplayed the effects of sanctions.

"When it comes to international relations, we should take new steps to elevate the position of Iran on the basis of our national interest, and do away with brutal sanctions," Rouhani said.

The supreme leader, however, seemed uncomfortable giving the sanctions too much credit for having ravaged the economy.

Though acknowledging that they had created "some problems," Khamenei said the bans had also imparted some "big lessons." He cited the need for Iran to rely on "domestic structures" and be economically self-sufficient.

In addition, the supreme leader reiterated his skepticism about any possible deal with the West that could lead to reduced sanctions. "We have some enemies who do not understand a logical and wise stance," he said.

Khamenei, who spoke after Rouhani, also emphasized that Iran is an "Islamic democracy, based on Islamic precepts and values," points that the new president did not stress in his speech.

A day after Rouhani was quoted erroneously by the Iranian news media as saying that Israel was a "wound" that "should be removed" — purported comments that caused a furor and drew sharp censure from Israeli officials — Khamenei launched a broadside against the "Zionist regime." Khamenei accusing Israel of killing children, kicking families out of their homes and throwing suspects into jail without trial.

The new president made no mention of Israel in his speech Saturday. In his public comments so far, Rouhani appears to have attempted to tamp down the anti-Israeli rhetoric associated with the bombastic Ahmadinejad, who was known for questioning the Holocaust and assailing Israel's existence.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times staff writer McDonnell reported from Beirut.

Los Angeles Times Articles