TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's former nuclear negotiator, now a candidate in Iran's presidential election, pledged Thursday to improve rocky relations with the West if he is elected.
Hasan Rohani is considered a leading candidate in the June election because of his centrist views and close ties to Iran's ruling clerics. A top supporter said he favors negotiations to resolve the dispute over Iran's suspect nuclear program, while preserving Iran's rights.
Rohani told a campaign rally that he would seek "constructive interaction with the world," an apparent reference to Western nations, which have imposed several rounds of sanctions to try to rein in Iran's nuclear program. The West believes Iran may be heading toward production of nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear development program is peaceful.
"My goals will be restoring the economy, promoting morality and relations with the world," Rohani said. "I will build government of prudence and hope."
"Iran is in the middle of sensitive days, hard days," Rohani told his supporters. "It is because of regional and international situations as well as sanctions."
Western sanctions have crippled Iran's economy and collapsed its currency, but Iran has refused to limit its enrichment of uranium, as the West demands.
The new president will succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for another term. Iran's president does not control foreign policy, which is directed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but he sets the tone in international circles.
Rohani has been one of Khamenei's representatives in the Supreme National Security Council that decides on important issues.
Mahmoud Vaezi, a former deputy foreign minister and close ally of Rohani, said, "Rohani favors solving the nuclear issue through talks. He has proved that he is able to protect Iran's nuclear rights in interactions with foreign countries."
Rohani also criticized Ahmadinejad's record, pointing to inflation of more than 30 percent, 13 percent unemployment and negative economic growth, as reported by International Monetary Fund.
"It is a shame that the IMF assessed Iran's economic growth as negative while our central bank remained silent," Rohani said. He said Ahmadinejad made a little progress in the economic field despite more than $700 billion oil income during his eight years office.
Former Cabinet ministers, political figures and clerics attended the rally, along with two children of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.