Rouhani, who is due to be sworn in as president in August, criticized the approach of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his election campaign as too confrontational.
Echoing comments he made in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat last week, he told reporters in Tehran that “the relationship with our 15 neighbors across the Persian Gulf is among our top priorities. They are our neighbors and brothers.”
He also emphasized that improving ties with Saudi Arabia was among his administration’s top priorities by pointing out that he signed “the first memorandum between the two countries,” during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami, in 1998.
On other issues, the president-elect’s position was less clear. Despite reports in the Western media about increasing Iranian involvement in the fighting in Syria, Rouhani said that he was against external intervention in the conflict.
“Syrian problems are solved by Syrian people,” he said. “We are against terrorism, civil war, interfering in internal affairs of Syria. Other countries must cooperate to solve the problems in Syria.”
In response to a question from a Japanese reporter about the recent decision by the US to extend military aid to the rebels, he said: “Foreign countries must not interfere in Syrian internal affairs. If they want to help to solve the problems, they must address the current government in Syria. We are sure that 2014 elections will also have a great impact on the future of the conflict.”
On the issue of US-Iranian relations, Rouhani said: “It is an old wound that needs to be healed.”
He added: “we are not looking for increasing the tension. The two countries must think about future and based on mutual trust. American must abide by the Algiers Accords and recognize Iran’s nuclear rights.”
The Algiers Accords, which were signed by the US and Iran in the wake of the 1980-81 Embassy Hostage Crisis, pledge non-interference in Iranian affairs on the part of the US.
Hassan Rouhani shed light on his intentions, widely anticipated both in and outside Iran, to convince the West to lift sanctions in an answer to Mehr News Agency reporter.
He said: “the sanctions against Iran are brutal. Sanctions are reactionary measures, especially at such sensitive time as now, when the world is facing a global financial crisis. The West is also losing in this issue and the only party benefiting from the sanctions is Israel.”
“On our part, Iran will take two major steps to solve the sanctions problems: providing much more transparency on our already-transparent nuclear program, and also creating mutual trust.”
However, Rouhani ruled out a return to the suspension of uranium enrichment, which Iran undertook as a confidence-building measure between 2003 and 2005.
He told France 24 reporter: “in the year 2005 we reached a final agreement with Mr. Chirac to build international trust . . . France agreed. However, the deal was scuttled due to a disagreement from the British side under American pressure.”
On economic matters, Rouhani reiterated his campaign pledges to reduce inflation and control the money supply.
In response to questions from an Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reporter, he said: “banks must help us to create enough investment for a productive market. We will try to promote various industries including tourism and agriculture. My administration will take part in joint committees with the current government and will take further steps on the matter.”
Rouhani was also pressed by the reformist Shargh newspaper, which asked him if his administration would allow reformist parties to resume their activities following the support offered by former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami during his campaign.
Rouhani said: “I am the president of all Iranian people. All legal demands will be considered from all parties and groups. According to chapter 3 of the Iranian constitution we will provide a fair venue for every party.”
Chapter 3 of the Iranian constitution is entitled “The Rights of the People,” and “safeguards press freedoms” and “provides for freedom of assembly.”
The press conference came to a dramatic end when one man began shouting slogans in support of jailed reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who remains under house arrest following the mass protests in the wake of the disputed 2009 presidential election. At the time Mousavi, together with fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi, accused the Iranian government of rigging in order to give the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term.
During his electoral campaign, Rouhani pledged to attempt to secure the release of both Karroubi and Mousavi.
Despite his sweeping first round victory, analysts say that Rouhani will have to move carefully if he wishes to make progress on his ambitious agenda, which amounts in some cases to a virtual ‘reset’ of relations with the West and the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
In particular, Rouhani will have to ensure that he retains the support of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who retains overall control of the broad direction of Iranian government policy under the country’s constitution.
Rouhani reportedly paid his first visit to Khamenei since his election on Sunday. According to official Iranian news media, Ayatollah Khamenei extended his congratulations to Rohani, wished him success and offered him “the necessary guidance.”