x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iran foreign ministry to handle nuclear talks

Since the election of centrist Hassan Rouhani as president in June, Iran says it is taking a new approach to negotiations with a six-nation group – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

TEHRAN // Iran's foreign minister will lead nuclear talks with world powers, taking over from the country's national security council, a diplomatic official said yesterday.

Since the election of centrist Hassan Rouhani as president in June, Iran says it is taking a new approach to negotiations with a six-nation group - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Iranian officials say they will abandon the bombastic language used under Mr Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But they also say Iran will continue its disputed nuclear activities.

"The nuclear dossier has been transferred to the foreign ministry," the official said. He said Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister who is a Western-educated veteran diplomat, will be top nuclear negotiator. The move is seen as transferring the nuclear file to professional diplomats rather than security-minded figures at the Supreme National Security Council.

The West says Iran is pursuing weapons technology. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.

Mr Rouhani, who won a landslide in June 14 presidential elections, has vowed to pursue a "policy of moderation" and ease tensions with the outside world.

During election debates, Mr Rouhani criticised Iran's representation at nuclear talks, citing it one reason why no breakthrough was achieved.

Iran's clerical leadership, which has ultimate authority on all matters of state, also appears to have given its blessing to a more diplomatic approach to the West.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, said this week that Iran needed to "talk with a different language".

He added however that Iran will not again suspend enrichment because Tehran had a bitter experience when it did so in 2003 as a confidence-building measure.

The European Union's foreign policy chief has said she will "soon" meet Mr Zarif amid the need for swift and substantial talks over the nuclear programme. Catherine Ashton's office said she called the minister on Saturday to congratulate him on his appointment.

Mr Zarif has said he welcomed resumption of talks but called for "purposeful and time-limited" negotiations.

"Zarif is now in the process of selecting his negotiating team before preparing for talks with the six-nation group," the official said.

Mr Zarif did postgraduate studies at San Francisco State University and obtained a doctorate in international law and policy at the University of Denver. Mr Zarif also raised his profile in the US as a diplomat at Iran's UN Mission in New York during a five-year posting that ended in 2007.

Mr Rouhani hopes Mr Zarif's expertise and years of experience in dealing with Americans as Iran's top UN envoy will help his government understand the American way of thinking. Mr Zarif worked with Mr Rouhani when the president was Iran's top nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005.