WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama said in an interview Monday that Iran’s election result showed the country’s people wanted to back away from confrontation with the outside world but ruled out for the moment lifting economic sanctions on Tehran.
“Well, I think it says that the Iranian people want to move in a different direction,” Obama told PBS television’s “Charlie Rose” show.
“The Iranian people rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything any time anywhere,” Obama said when asked about the election of moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani.
“Clearly, you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way,” the US president said in an interview recorded before he departed for the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
But the United States would have to wait to see how the political situation develops, as the country’s supreme leader still retained authority over key decisions, Obama said.
“Now, Mr. Rowhani, who won the election, I think indicated his interest in shifting how Iran approaches many of these international questions, but I think we understand that under their system the supreme leader will be making a lot of decisions.
“And so we’re going to have to continue to see how this develops and how this evolves over the next several weeks, months, years,” he said.
In Enniskillen at the G8 summit, Obama said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had voiced “cautious optimism” that the election result could breathe life into stalled talks between Tehran and world powers over its disputed nuclear program.
Iran faces tough sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, an effort which the United States and Israel fear is laying the ground for a nuclear weapons capability.
In the interview, Obama said there is a possibility the Iranian leadership would pursue diplomatic talks with the United States in a “serious” way and his administration remained open to direct discussions.
The US side was ready to try to defuse tensions but Iran had to abide by its international obligations and show that it was not trying to build nuclear weapons, he said.
“Our bottom lines have been, show the international community that you’re abiding by international treaties and obligations, that you’re not developing a nuclear weapon.
“Based on that, there are a whole range of measures that can be taken to try to normalize the relationship between Iran and the world, but we don’t know yet if they’re going to be willing to take up that offer,” Obama said.
There were no preconditions for talks but Tehran had to understand that the most strict economic sanctions would stay in place without clear steps from Iran demonstrating it was not developing an atomic bomb, he added.
The most powerful sanctions “will not be lifted in the absence of significant steps in showing the international community that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.”