The recently signed nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers does not necessarily guarantee better relations between Tehran and Washington, said the Iranian President on Thursday.
In order to increase the likelihood of warmer relations Hassan Rouhani claims that the U.S. needs to apologize for past behavior, writes Philip Pullella for Reuters. Rouhani was instrumental in convincing Iranian politicians to support the deal, and has consistently pressed for greater cooperation with the West since his election win in 2013.
Iranian President speaks with Italian newspaper ahead of visit
Rouhani is known as a pragmatist, but consistently runs into opposition from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is Iran’s top authority. Khameini steadfastly refuses to normalize relations with Washington, and is regularly quoted calling the United States the “Great Satan.”
Rouhani conducted an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, during which he suggested that embassies could be reopened in Washington and Tehran, ending decades of distrust and hostility. He went on to claim that Washington should apologize, but did not detail exactly what that apology would be for.
“One day these embassies will re-open but what counts is behavior and the Americans hold the key to this,” Rouhani said, speaking before a visit to Italy this weekend. It will be the first time the Iranian President has visited a European capital city.
“If they modify their policies, correct errors committed in these 37 years and apologize to the Iranian people, the situation will change and good things can happen,” Rouhani continued.
U.S.-Iran relations complicated since Islamic Revolution
Following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, radical students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and kept 52 Americans hostage for more than 12 months. The incident led to the severing of diplomatic ties between the two nations, and tensions were ratcheted up a notch due to worries over Iran’s plans to develop nuclear weapons.
Although Tehran maintained that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes only, the U.S. was worried that Iran was secretly developing nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran would have caused major headaches in the Middle East, not least for Israel, a key U.S. ally and sworn enemy of Iran.
This July a group of six world powers reached a deal with Iran, under which Tehran will scale back its nuclear program in return for the lifting of Western economic sanctions on the country. Iran has consistently denied that it wants to develop nuclear weapons, although evidence has been discovered of sustained, high-level cooperation between Iranian scientists and their North Korean counterparts.
Fears that nuclear program could continue in secret
North Korea is also working on nuclear warheads and missile technology, and delegations from both nations visited top secret facilities in order to share information. The maintenance of a secret program raises fears that Tehran will break the deal and continue to work on nuclear missiles in secret.
This is a huge worry for conservatives and other groups, including Israel, although supporters of the deal claim that it allows international monitors access to Iranian nuclear facilities at short notice. The level of access should make secret nuclear programs highly unlikely.
Khamenei approved the deal but warned that he would not tolerate any U.S. political or economic influence on Iran. Recently a fried chicken shop called KFC Halal was shut down by authorities because its decor bore a strong resemblance to the U.S. flag.
Rouhani sees opportunity for improved relations
For his part Rouhani claimed that the U.S. must fulfill its side of the nuclear bargain in order for relations to thaw. The U.S. has agreed to lift economic sanctions, although only after international monitors have visited Iran to check the status of its nuclear program.
“The way this agreement is applied can have an impact on the future,” Rouhani said in the interview. “If it is well applied it can lay the foundation for fewer tensions with the United States, creating the conditions to open a new era. But if the Americans don’t respect their part of the nuclear accord, then surely our relationship will remain as it has been in the past,” he said.
During his visit Rouhani will meet with the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and business leaders in Rome. He will also have a meeting with Pope Francis before flying to Paris for another round of meetings from November 16-17.
European businesses look well placed to benefit from the potential opening up of a major new market in Iran, and the European Union has been working on lifting regulations in order to ease entry. As it stands U.S. firms look likely to miss out on the potential bonanza due to political wrangling over the deal.