Iran inaugurated a one-time nuclear negotiator and someone believed to be a reformer as its next president over the weekend, as Tehran and Washington each reaffirmed their hope to peacefully resolve an intensifying atomic standoff, Reuters reported.
"The only way for interaction with Iran is dialogue on an equal footing, confidence-building and mutual respect, as well as reducing antagonism and aggression," Hassan Rouhani told Iranian lawmakers after formally assuming his nation's presidency. The Persian Gulf power has been locked in a years-long dispute with Washington and other governments over Iranian atomic activities capable of supporting the potential development of nuclear arms. Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful.
"If you want the right response, don't speak with Iran in the language of sanctions, speak in the language of respect," Rouhani said.
In Washington, though, President Obama was set on Monday to receive a written call from 76 U.S. senators for harsher economic pressure on Tehran to curb its atomic efforts, the Associated Press reported. The document suggests the Senate would endorse new punitive legislation approved by the House last week, according to AP.
"We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously," the bipartisan communication says. "Iran needs to understand that the time for diplomacy is nearing its end."
The White House, though, on Sunday said Rouhani's swearing-in "presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program."
"Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States," spokesman Jay Carney added in a statement.
A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton -- the top interlocutor in multilateral nuclear negotiations with Iran -- on Monday voiced "hope that the new Iranian government will be prepared to make rapid progress towards addressing international concerns about its nuclear program and engage constructively on the (P-5+1) proposal for confidence-building," Agence France-Presse reported. He was referring to an offer put to Iran in previous gatherings with delegates from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.
The incoming president on Saturday provided no details of any new initiatives to obtain relief from international penalties, AP reported. He received formal backing for the political office that day from Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who holds the final word on all political decisions in the country.
The new president promptly asked Iran's legislature to approve a number of top-level nominations, including the appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif to foreign minister, Reuters reported. Lawmakers would consider the picks over the coming few days, according to the parliament's speaker.
Rouhani's inauguration elicited little enthusiasm from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday criticized comments the incoming leader had made about Israel days earlier, AFP reported.
Netanyahu said Iran's president "may have been changed but the aims of the regime there have not."
"Iran's intention is to develop a nuclear capability and nuclear weapons, with the aim of destroying the state of Israel," the prime minister added.
The potential for Israeli military action against Iran was one anticipated topic of a meeting that Netanyahu and Israeli's civilian and uniformed defense leaders were set to hold with U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was to arrive in Israel on Sunday, the Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported. The sides were also expected to discuss U.S. statements linking Israel to reported strikes on Syrian armed forces assets.
Meanwhile, U.S. and European government insiders have said their capitals are growing more worried about an unfinished Iranian heavy-water reactor with the potential to generate nuclear weapon-usable plutonium, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. Tehran has said it plans in the second half of next year to activate the Arak facility, which U.S. and U.N. personnel believe could annually generate plutonium for up to two weapons.