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Newly-elected Iranian president urges 'path of moderation'

Mideast Iran Election_june17.JPG

June 16, 2013 - Photo released by the official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during his meeting with President-elect Hasan Rowhani in Tehran, Iran.AP

Iran's newly elected president pledged on Monday to follow a "path of moderation" and promised greater openness over the country's nuclear program, but sided with the hard-line Islamic establishment that refuses to consider halting uranium enrichment.

However, the overall tone of Hasan Rowhani's first post-election news conference, will likely be viewed by the West as further evidence that his stunning victory last week could open new possibilities for dialogue to ease tensions over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

In his outreach to Washington, Rowhani also had a dual message. He urged for no additional tensions and said both countries should "look to the future." But he repeated past statements from Iran's leadership that one-on-one talks are only possible if the U.S. vows to "never interfere in Iranian affairs."

Many other questions remain. Rowhani sidestepped the issue of Iran's close alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying only that the efforts to end the civil war and restore stability rest with the "Syrian people."

He also must balance the hopes of many supporters who want him to push hard against the ruling system. At the end of the news conference, a spectator yelled out for the release of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest for more than two years. Rowhani made no comment.

Rowhani does not have authority to set major policies, such as the direction of the nuclear program or relations with the West. All those decisions rest with the ruling clerics and the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which have so far appeared to embrace Rowhani but could easily turn against him if he is perceived as a threat to their grip on power.

Rowhani, however, can use the strength of his landslide victory and his influential connections, including with former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to try to sway policies. He also will serve as Iran's main international envoy and is almost certain to present a much milder tone than his combative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is to formally give up power in August.

This could help lower political friction between Iran and the West and also undercut calls by some factions in Israel and the U.S. to study military options against Iran's nuclear facilities.

The 64-year-old Rowhani -- the only cleric in the presidential race -- described his election as opening a "new era" and said he would "follow the path of moderation and justice, not extremism."

"We have to enhance mutual trust between Iran and other countries," he said. "We have to build trust."

He also said dealing with the economy was among his priorities, in a clear reference to how Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear efforts have helped spike inflation to more than 30 percent and slashed vital revenue. Previously, Rowhani -- a former nuclear negotiator -- criticized Iranian positions that have led to increased sanctions but also described the economic pressures by the U.S. and others as "oppressive."

"The Iranian nation has done nothing to deserve sanctions. The work it has done has been within international frameworks . If sanctions have any benefits, they will only benefit Israel. They have no benefits for others," he said.

He promised to encourage "step by step" measures to reassure the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The West claims that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. Iranian leaders, including Rowhani, insist Iran seeks reactors only for energy and medical applications.

Enriched uranium is used as fuel for energy and research reactors but it can be further boosted to make a nuclear warhead.

"The first step will be showing greater transparency. We are ready to show greater transparency and make clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran's actions are totally within international frameworks," he said. "The second step is promoting mutual confidence. We'll take measures in both fields. The first goal is that no new sanctions are imposed. Then, that the (existing) sanctions are reduced."

On Syria, he said the ultimate responsibility to resolve the more than two-year-old civil war should be in the hands of the "Syrian people."

"We are opposed to foreign intervention," he said. "We hope peace and tranquility will return to Syria through the cooperation with countries of the region and world."

Rowhani formally takes office in August. In the meantime, it appears Ahmadinejad's political foes could be plotting a payback, underscoring the often cutthroat nature of internal Iranian affairs.

Iran's official news agency said a criminal court summoned Ahmadinejad over a lawsuit filed by the country's parliament speaker and others.

Monday's report by IRNA gave no further details, but Ahmadinejad and the speaker, Ali Larijani, have waged political feuds for years. In February, Ahmadinejad released a barely audible videotape that purported to show discussion over bribes that included Larijani's brother. A parliamentary committee also joined Larijani in the legal action.

IRNA, which comes under the president's authority, noted there were several other subpoenas issued previously against Ahmadinejad and described the latest as unconstitutional. The court has set a November date for Ahmadinejad's appearance, it said.