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Hassan Rouhani: Iran will continue nuclear program for peaceful purposes

By Irene Chapple and Mark Thompson, CNN
January 23, 2014 -- Updated 1725 GMT (0125 HKT)
  • NEW: The world must "prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Israeli PM says
  • At Davos summit, Iranian President presses reengagement with the world
  • But Iran will "under no conditions" give up peaceful nuclear program, he says
  • Rouhani calls for free elections in Syria, says opposition and government need to talk

Editor's note: CNN is at Davos and will bring you breaking news, analysis and insight from January 20 to January 25. Join CNN anchors Richard Quest, John Defterios and Nina dos Santos as they ask the world's political and economic leaders what we can expect in 2014. Follow our team on the ground here and see complete coverage here. Read this article in Spanish.

Davos, Switzerland (CNN) -- Iran will continue with its peaceful nuclear program and push to reengage with the world and build its economy, President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday in a speech at the World Economic Forum.

Rouhani, who became President in August, said his country would "under no conditions give up its right to pursue peaceful technology."

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But, he said, the six-month nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, which limits the country's nuclear program in exchange for lighter sanctions, opens the door to greater Iranian engagement with the world.

"What we have achieved is not merely a temporary agreement but a prelude to future agreement and engagement," Rouhani said.

In Thursday's speech, he said he would push for improved ties with the world as part of his drive to make the Iranian economy one of the top 10 within the next three decades.

Iran's economy ranked 22nd in the world in 2012, based on gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

"I view Iran's economy as the most congruent, capable and closest to that of successful emerging economies, and I see Iran's place alongside them in the future," Rouhani said.

He said the country intended to reopen trade and industrial and economic relations with its neighbors -- but that doesn't appear to include Israel.

Responding to a question from World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab on whether Iran's approach included all countries, Rouhani said: "All countries that Iran has officially recognized are inside the circle."

"East and West, North and South -- there are no exceptions," he said.

Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iran has viewed Israel as an illegitimate state with no right to exist.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Rouhani's remarks were the latest in an "Iranian show of deception." He said the goal of the Iranian ayatollahs' regime was to ease sanctions without conceding on their program to produce nuclear weapons.

"They say they oppose nuclear weapons; why do they insist on maintaining the ballistic missiles and plutonium and the advanced centrifuges that are only used for the production of nuclear weapons?" Netanyahu said. "So it sounds good, I wish it was real, it isn't real. I think the world has a mission to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons."

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an exclusive interview with CNN, said the Obama administration has mischaracterized concessions by his side in the six-month nuclear deal with Iran, saying "we did not agree to dismantle anything."

The accord requires Iran to dilute its stockpile of uranium that had been enriched to 20% -- well above the 5% level needed for power generation but still below the level for developing a nuclear weapon.

In addition, the deal requires Iran to limit new enrichment to 5% and dismantle equipment necessary for higher levels, according to the White House.

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Rouhani also said Syria, where a civil war has been raging for almost three years, has been "engulfed in a major catastrophe, and the people have borne the brunt. It is a miserable situation and a very sad situation."

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He said Iran "believes that everyone, all of us, should try our best to put a stop to the bloodshed in Syria, and later push terrorists out of Syria."

Rouhani said the next step would be to "pave the way for the opposition to sit around a table with the Syrian government" and for free and fair elections to be held.

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