Iran's President Says Job Creation Is 'Priority' For His Country
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Iran's President Rouhani leads a country that is about to get richer, many billions of dollars richer. That's because of the nuclear deal that Rouhani marked before the U.N. today. It lifts economic sanctions and frees up Iranian assets. Critics fear Iran will use its new money to intensify its support for armed groups hostile to the U.S. or Israel. President Hassan Rouhani told NPR's Steve Inskeep what he hopes to do with it.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: President Rouhani has been asking people about the nuclear deal. Just the other day, he visited a school in Iran. The white-turbaned leader was conducting an annual government ritual. He posed a question to students nationwide, a national prompt to think about something. Afterward, he told us through his interpreter what the question was.
HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) What opportunities - what new opportunities do you feel that have been created for our nation, and how these opportunities can be put to good use?
INSKEEP: The opportunities of his nuclear agreement. Over the weekend, we met Rouhani in a New York hotel and we asked him a version of his own question. We asked how Iran means to spend billions of dollars in unfrozen assets and new oil sales. He insisted that he wants to spend Iran's new billions on people like the students in that school.
ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) You do know that we have a very young population. Sixty-five percent of the population in Iran is under 35 years of age, and many of them today are students. So they will need to enter the job market.
INSKEEP: Meaning Iran needs many billions of dollars in new infrastructure and investment. It will take years of strong growth for Iran's battered economy to create opportunities.
ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) That is our priority. Job creation is our priority and to decrease unemployment.
INSKEEP: As you know, Mr. President, critics of this deal abroad have expressed the concern that Iran will spend money supporting armed groups outside of the country. Given that you've said your priority is at home, can you reassure the world by stating here today that Iran's new wealth will not go to support armed groups abroad such as Hezbollah?
ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) The topic is quite clear and transparent. Our nation does what it does transparently. In America, perhaps, there is some partisan bickery, and these are slogans that folks attach themselves to in order to justify their thinking. In Iran, it's very transparent where does the income come from, how we earn it and how we spend it.
INSKEEP: Given what you say, would you be willing to respond to those critics by simply saying, don't worry; Iran is going to be spending it's added wealth at home.
ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) I do believe that, sincerely, they're not that worried. These are political - this is nothing more than political bickering. They do know that Iran is in such conditions where it needs economic growth because, during the past two or three years, our economic growth was sometimes at a negative rate. So we need to make up for those years.
INSKEEP: One statistic President Rouhani cited was especially revealing. We heard him say that almost two-thirds of Iran's populace is under age 35. Those are people born after 1979, the year of Iran's Islamic revolution. They have no personal connection to the revolution that Rouhani wants to sustain. The president suggests that the people expect their government to deliver.
ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) To create an environment in which the youth can be productive. Otherwise, we're endangering our own national security. So it is quite crystal-clear what we intend to do, what our priorities are.
INSKEEP: Although he never did explicitly promise to avoid expending Iran's presence abroad. In a system governed by clerics, President Rouhani is not the highest authority. Many Iranians may get a chance to answer his question, the question about how Iran will take advantage of the nuclear deal. Steve Inskeep, NPR News.
SHAPIRO: The full interview with President Hassan Rouhani is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.