DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday his country is ready to do business and honor a deal to curb its nuclear program, in a speech aimed at persuading world leaders of Tehran's willingness to engage the global community.
Rouhani claimed the spotlight at the annual World Economic Forum as the event coincided with the lifting of some international sanctions on Iran and the country's exclusion from Syrian peace talks being held just a few hours' drive away.
"I see the status of Iran pursuing policies of moderation, prudence and hope in the future global economy," Rouhani said. "Iran's economy has the potential to be among the world's top 10 in the next three decades."
Rouhani, accompanied by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, emphasized that Tehran will abide by the terms of a deal with world powers to limit its nuclear program. In exchange, it is getting some sanctions relief and $4.2 billion in overseas assets are being freed up. Over the next half-year, Iran and world powers will try to forge a permanent deal.
The agreement paves the way for new business deals that Rouhani and Zarif will be eager to discuss at the forum, which brings together about 2,500 political leaders, corporate tycoons and other public figures in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
"We intend to reopen trade, industrial and economic relations, with all of our neighbors," Rouhani said in a speech to the forum.
Iran is "fully prepared and ready to engage with all neighboring countries" to reach solutions on issues including business ventures, environmental concerns, Palestinian rights, Persian Gulf security and Syria's humanitarian crisis, he said.
Rouhani said he hopes Iran's historical deep economic ties with Europe will be normalized and suggested that negotiations with the U.S. could pave the way to better relations. He reiterated that Iran has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but has the right to continue pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Not to be outshined, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also attended the weeklong gathering in Davos.
Netanyahu didn't mince words, telling the forum in a speech that Iran is a concern for many Arab governments, just as it is for Israel.
"They say they oppose nuclear weapons. Why do they insist on maintaining the ballistic missiles and the plutonium, and the advanced centrifuges that are only used for the production of nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.
"I wish it was real. It isn't real," he said.
Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program, saying they don't go far enough to put the brakes on a country that supports Hezbollah, the militant group that has been vying with Israel for control of the region's power balance.
The Israeli leader also blamed Iran for being involved in the violence in Syria.
"Iran, with the Revolutionary Guards, on the ground in Syria, is facilitating the mass slaughter," Netanyahu said, referring to Iran's elite military unit.
Rouhani suggested that "the best solution is to organize free and fair elections." Iran's Shiite-led government and financial support is central to President Bashar Assad's grip on power.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be another a point of focus of talks at Davos, particularly for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also at the event, fresh from the Syrian peace conference in the nearby cities of Montreux and Geneva.
Both sides resumed peace talks in July under heavy American pressure, the first time they had done so in almost five years. There have been virtually no signs of progress, however. Kerry is working to get a framework deal in April.
Adam P. Pemble contributed to this report.