TEHRAN, Iran – Hassan Rouhani became the seventh president of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Saturday, officially receiving the endorsement of the nation’s supreme leader at a formal ceremony here in the capital.
Rouhani, 64, a cleric considered a moderate pragmatist, replaced outgoing two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was barred from seeking a third term. Rouhani was elected in June in a surprise landslide victory.
Rouhani’s formal inauguration and swearing-in was scheduled for today, but Saturday marked the new president’s ascension to office.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, formally endorsed Rouhani as president during a nationally televised ceremony attended by much of Iran’s inner circle. Khamenei has the last say on matters of state in Iran’s theocratic system.
Noticeably absent Saturday was former President Mohammad Khatami, considered the leader of Iran’s so-called reformist bloc, which is deeply at odds with the conservative hard-liners who dominate the government. Khatami, viewed with extreme distrust by hard-liners, endorsed Rouhani’s candidacy.
The ex-president’s absence on Saturday is an indication of the difficult balancing task facing Rouhani, who galvanized reformist support in his electoral victory but must avoid alienating powerful conservative blocs.
Rouhani, a longtime insider in the Islamic Republic and former parliamentarian and ex-national nuclear negotiator, faces a range of challenges, notably keeping his promise to turn around the nation’s free-falling economy. He has also vowed to improve Iran’s relations with other nations and work for the release of political prisoners.
In his speech, Rouhani warned that it could take some time to solve Iran’s many problems, especially to reverse its economic tailspin. The nation suffers from high unemployment and galloping inflation, problems exacerbated in part by U.S.-backed international sanctions tied to the nation’s controversial nuclear program.
In keeping with a campaign pledge, the new president vowed to work to remove the “brutal” international sanctions that target Iran’s economy and hamper its access to the international banking sector and its ability to sell oil, the nation’s primary export. But there was no mention during Saturday’s ceremony of Iran’s nuclear program, the underlying cause of the sanctions.
Iran says its nuclear efforts are solely for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and other Western powers believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.