Rouhani endorsed as Iran’s president by Khamenei in formal ceremony

Event shown live on state TV marks transfer of authority from Ahmadinejad; parliamentary inauguration Sunday

Iran’s new president Hasan Rouhani was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for a four-year term on Saturday afternoon, at a ceremony attended by senior Iranian officials.

In the ceremony, broadcast live on state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave his official approval for Rouhani. Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran, has final say in all key matters, including Rouhani’s upcoming selections for key cabinet posts such as the foreign and intelligence ministers.

At the formal ceremony, Khamenei called on Rouhani to serve the Iranian people and protect the Islamic Republic’s interests from the West, according to activists posting on Twitter.

In his first speech as the seventh president of Iran, Rouhani said he would “preserve Iranian interests in the international arena” and fight the sanctions levied against it.

Rouhani, a 64-year-old former nuclear negotiator, was an Islamic activist before the 1979 revolution, which toppled the monarchy and ushered in an Islamic state under the guidance of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

He replaces Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose 8-year presidency was marked by confrontation with the West over Iran’s nuclear program, economic suffering due to an increase in global sanctions, and persistent denial of the Holocaust.

Speaking at the event, Rouhani pledged to follow a path of moderation and work to get Western sanctions over Iran’s suspect nuclear program lifted. Iran is under United Nations sanctions as well as Western oil and banking sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and other activity believed by the West to be geared to achieving a nuclear weapons capability.

“The government’s (goal) will be to tackle people’s living issues. … In parallel, it will take new steps in the arena of international relations to improve Iran’s standing on the basis of meeting national interests and remove the current oppressive sanctions,” Rouhani said.

In his speech, Rouhani insisted that resolving the country’s pressing economic problems is his top priority. Sanctions have hit the country’s vital oil exports and blocked transactions on international banking networks. Inflation is running at more than 25 percent. The value of the Iranian rial has lost more than two-thirds of its value against the US dollar since late 2011.

“The government’s direction will be to save Iran’s economy… and interact constructively with the world,” he said.

Minutes after the ceremony, Ahmadinejad handed over the presidential palace in the heart of Tehran to Rouhani.

The new president will take an oath of office in the Iranian parliament on Sunday, a public inauguration ceremony for which the Islamic Republic sent out invitations to world leaders last month. Israel and the United States were not invited.

Rouhani now has two weeks to name his cabinet and the parliament will have have 10 days to review the candidates, AFP reported.

According to Iran’s Press TV, the inauguration ceremony on Sunday will be attended by the presidents of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Armenia, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Togo; the prime ministers of Syria and Swaziland; the vice presidents of Nicaragua, Tanzania, Cuba and Ghana; the foreign ministers of South Africa, India, Brazil, Turkey, Mauritania, Sri Lanka, Burundi and the Palestinian Authority; and the parliamentary speakers of Russia, Venezuela, Algeria, Azerbaijan, the UAE, Uzbekistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Former European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will reportedly attend as a special guest.

As president-elect, Rouhani pledged to follow a “path of moderation” after winning a landslide victory in Iran’s June 14 presidential election. He promised greater openness over the country’s nuclear program, which has placed it at odds with the West.

Rouhani was believed to have garnered the votes of Iran’s more reform-minded voters, even though he is a veteran of the ruling clerical establishment and his candidacy was authorized by Khamenei.

Iranians attend an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. (Photo credit: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranians attend an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

On Friday, Rouhani attracted world attention when he called Israel an “old wound” at an event for International Quds Day in Iran, attending by millions. Earlier in the day, he was misquoted with media outlets reporting that he had called for the “wound… to be removed,” a statement promptly and sharply criticized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There is an old wound on the body of the Islamic world, under the shadow of the occupation of the holy lands of Palestine and Jerusalem,” read the corrected ISNA quote by Rouhani. Netanyahu subsequently rolled back his response.

In his remarks Friday, Rouhani also expressed doubts about the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal as the two sides resumed negotiations in Washington last week.

“Israelis show a compromising face to the world but continue their expansionism in practice,” Rouhani said, according to Fars, another semiofficial news agency. “This rally is a reminder that Muslim people will not forget their historical right and they will resist oppression and invasion.”

AP contributed to this report.

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