Iran Reshuffles Duties in High-Stakes Nuclear Talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will reportedly assume responsibility for nuclear negotiations with six major governments (Iranian Foreign Ministry photo).
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will reportedly assume responsibility for nuclear negotiations with six major governments (Iranian Foreign Ministry photo).

WASHINGTON – Iran on Thursday assigned its relatively moderate Foreign Ministry to lead nuclear negotiations with world powers, a key shift in authority that came as U.S. analysts voiced cautious optimism about leadership changes in Tehran defusing international tensions over its atomic activities.

The Foreign Ministry reportedly confirmed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s decision to transfer the negotiation duties previously handled by the more conservative Supreme National Security Council, which includes representatives for Iran’s military, governing branches and supreme religious leader. Iranian state media said the latter group would “continue coordinating” the talks.

The move by Rouhani, a reformist who took office in August, gives Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responsibility for the talks, according to the Associated Press. Zarif, who received his doctorate in the United States and has extensive experience in dealing with U.S. officials, said Tehran has settled on new atomic negotiators and anticipates a new multilateral exchange after this month's U.N. General Assembly meeting, according to an Iranian press report.

After years of discussions with Iran, several governments remain concerned that Tehran's ostensibly nonmilitary nuclear program is actually aimed at establishing a weapons capability. Israel and several Western powers have threatened military strikes as a possible last resort to set back the controversial efforts.

By assigning responsibility for the talks to the Foreign Ministry alone, Rouhani could streamline Tehran’s ability to bargain with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to an August analysis by Reuters.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader, would retain the right to veto any potential compromise with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.

A former French envoy to Tehran and one-time associate of Zarif recently told the New York Times that as nuclear negotiator, Iran’s new foreign minister would “quickly and officially propose ideas such as Iran ending” production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, the material in Iran’s declared stockpile that could most quickly be converted into nuclear-bomb fuel.

Iran’s changing leadership provides “an important opportunity to reinvigorate negotiations" between Tehran and the “P-5+1” nations, the Washington-based Arms Control Association said in an analysis issued on Thursday. However, Iran's ongoing expansion of its weapon-usable uranium enrichment capabilities could complicate the path to an agreement, as could any demands by Tehran for the six world powers to curb punitive economic sanctions or acknowledge an Iranian right to refine uranium, according to the report.

The six negotiating nations plan to avoid further tightening the screws on the country at a meeting planned for next week of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation governing board, Reuters reported.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog is slated on Sept. 27 to hold the next in a series of meetings aimed at hammering out ground rules for the Vienna, Austria-based organization to investigate allegations that Tehran previously engaged in research relevant to a potential nuclear arms development effort.

Sept. 5, 2013
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WASHINGTON – Iran on Thursday assigned its relatively moderate Foreign Ministry to lead nuclear negotiations with world powers, a key shift in authority that came as U.S. analysts voiced cautious optimism about leadership changes in Tehran defusing international tensions over its atomic activities.

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