DAVOS (REUTERS) - Iran is determined to negotiate a comprehensive deal on its nuclear programme with major powers so it can develop its battered economy, President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday, inviting Western companies to seize opportunities now.
Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, the pragmatic president said Tehran was negotiating with the United States as part of a "constructive engagement" with the world and wanted Washington to back up its words with actions.
However, a day after a chaotic Syria peace conference from which Iran was excluded, he was unbending in his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ending "terrorism" backed by some of Syria's neighbours was a precondition for any settlement of the country's civil war, he said.
Elected last year on a promise to improve Tehran's relations with the outside world, Rouhani took the United Nations by storm in New York in September. His appearance in the Swiss resort launched phase two of a charm offensive aimed at ending sanctions that are crippling Iran's economy.
An interim deal with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - known as the P5+1 - came into force this week. This granted Iran a limited easing of the sanctions in return for temporary constraints on its uranium enrichment and nuclear development.
Rouhani stressed his commitment to achieving a final settlement. "Iran has a serious will to come to an agreement with the P5+1," he told the assembled business and political leaders. "I do not see a serious impediment in the way of this agreement. The Iranian will is strong." Asked what might prevent a long-term settlement, he cited the risk of "pressure from other parties" - a veiled reference to Israel, which denounced the interim deal as an "historic mistake" and urged the U.S. Congress to resist it.
Rouhani broke no new diplomatic ground in his speech. In a private session with energy executives, he promised a new, attractive investment model for oil contracts by September as part of a drive to lure back Western business barred by the U.S.-led sanctions, participants said.
Relations with Europe were being normalised now that the interim nuclear accord was being implemented, he said. Rouhani also met European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the sidelines of the conference.
"Iran should use this window of opportunity with determination to move to a comprehensive long-term solution on the nuclear issue," Barroso said in a statement. "This would open up the potential for an improved relationship and broader cooperation." At a separate meeting with U.S., European and Arab businessmen, Rouhani said Iran was seeking investment particularly in car manufacturing, oil and gas, petrochemicals, road and rail infrastructure and mining, a participant said.
He ignored a question from two US businessmen who said they had Israeli passports and asked if they could invest in Iran. The Islamic Republic does not recognise the Jewish state.
Most sanctions, including a severe squeeze on Iran's access to the international financial system, remain in force and the United States has stressed Western companies should not regard Iran as "open for business".