Iran Signals Possible Changes in Nuclear Oversight

Iran may assign its Foreign Ministry to oversee talks with world powers on the country’s nuclear program, a move that could give President Hassan Rohani more sway over the negotiations and help end Western sanctions.

Rohani, 64, will name a new team and chief negotiator to conduct talks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi told journalists in Tehran.

“Maybe the foreign minister, or anyone else that’s deemed adequate” could take over, Araghchi said. His comments were translated into English by Press TV, which broadcast the news conference. “We are waiting for the president’s decision.”

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, which reports to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, determines national security policies. The president appoints the Council’s secretary, who in the past has led the country’s nuclear negotiations. National security issues would continue to be formulated by the council and approved by Khamenei even if the negotiators changed, Araghchi said.

“Bringing the nuclear dossier to the Foreign Ministry will streamline the process for making tactical decisions,” said Ali Vaez, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Washington. “The strategic decisions will be made at the SNSC, where other players also have a say.”

Greater Transparency

Rohani, who was inaugurated on Aug. 4, has called on the U.S. and the European Union to drop sanctions imposed to stop the country’s uranium enrichment program. He’s also offered to make the program more transparent to ease Western suspicions that Iran’s nuclear work is not peaceful, as the Iranians claim, and ultimately designed to produce weapons. Over the past year, the sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, sending inflation above 35 percent and halving the value of the rial.

In five rounds of negotiations, starting in April 2012, Iran’s previous chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, failed to resolve differences with the six powers, made up of the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will probably be named as the lead negotiator, which would send a very strong signal, said Trita Parsi, author of “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran,” and president of the National Iranian-American Council in Washington, which has called for the removal of Western sanctions against Iran.

‘Political Capital’

“It means Iranians are putting much more political capital into the diplomatic process,” Parsi said. “If the Foreign Ministry and individuals like Zarif and Rohani are in the lead and have a stronger voice then, there are clearly reasons to believe that the Iranians are going to show greater intent on reaching a deal.”

As a former ambassador to the United Nations, the U.S.- educated Zarif, 53, who speaks fluent English, got to know influential Washington politicians. Zarif was confirmed by the parliament last week.

Khamenei, the ultimate decision maker on all major affairs of state, said on Aug. 3 when he endorsed Rohani for the presidency that he approves of his “prudent” and measured foreign policy approach in dealing with the West.

Putting the talks under the Foreign Ministry’s purview would strengthen the president’s hand, said Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.

“From the perspective of the broader powers of the presidency it would be important to see this shift occur,” Maloney said. It would give Rohani “some greater degree of direct responsibility and authority over the negotiations.”

Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator a decade ago, made the only deal with Western powers to suspend Iran’s enrichment program in 2003. Now, he has a chance to oversee another deal.

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