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Iran’s Nuclear Dossier Changing Hands Among Government Bodies

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By: Ehsan Mehrabi

Iranian presidents bring their areas of interest along with them when they take office and also take them away when they leave.Hashemi Rafsanjani transferred the Centre for Strategic Research to the Expediency Council, while Hassan Rohani is trying to bring the nuclear dossier back to the foreign ministry from the Supreme Council of National Security, where it has lately been handled.

Mohammad Khatami’s foreign ministry had foregone its right to handle the nuclear dossier in the hope that better results might be achieved. Khatami’s reformist administration felt that the supporters of the Supreme Leader would not endorse any agreement with the West so it looked for someone who enjoyed the confidence of the Supreme Leader as well as Hashemi Rafsanjani and a portion of the conservatives.

Following agreements between Iran and three European counties in 2003, Hassan Rohani emerged as the leader of the nuclear negotiation team. His name had been suggested earlier, but Rohani did not agree right away. In his subsequent book, he wrote about how he left the letter of appointment in his drawer and did not agree to it until later meeting with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Rohani, thus, became the icon of nuclear negotiations; the media speculated about his possible candidacy for the next presidential election, and the Shargh daily referred to him as the “Diplomat Sheik.”

Nuclear negotition team in Khatami's presidencyThe nuclear negotiation team in those days included figures such as Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hossein Mousavian and Cyrus Nasseri. The team enjoyed the high regard of Ali Akbar Velayati, a former Iranian foreign minister who claimed they comprised Iran’s best negotiating team.

Larijani’s Lollipop

Ali Larijani criticized the negotiating team, claiming it had yielded too much and gotten little in return; gave them pearls and got a lollipop back! However, his comments were not taken too seriously at the National Security Council.

Two years later, however, a substantial change in the political scene meant that, after a meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rohani called on Ali Larijani to prepare himself for the leadership of the National Security Council. However, Larijani did not even manage to get a lollipop from the West, because Ahmadinejad had tied his hands at all of the negotiation meetings.

After resigning from his position, Rohani told the Supreme Leader that Khatami had confidence in his work and did not interfere in it, but during Ali Larijani’s tenure when Larijani was negotiating, the Western parties would tell him how Ahmadinejad had said in his speeches that “no one can put the Iranian people’s right to enrich uranium on the negotiating table.” In another meeting, they would bring news of Mostafa PourMohammadi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s interior minister, announcing: “We have 100 kilograms of enriched uranium in store.”

Ali Larijani was removed from his position in October of 2007 and had his last dinner with Javier Solana, the EU Chief of Foreign Policy in Rome. Also in attendance was his replacement, Saeed Jalili.

The Pride Team

On the new negotiating team, there were no seasoned diplomats. The new team prided itself not on any innovative negotiating style but rather on the fact that its leader drove the humble Pride, a common car in Iran. The lead negotiators Ali BAgheri and Saeed Jalili (left to right)were two alumni of Jafar Sadegh University, Saeed Jalili and Ali Bagheri. Jalili got to the position through his connection with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but later distanced himself from the president and identified himself more with the Supreme Leader.

Ahmadinejad began by making a controversial statement about the nuclear issue but later on he stressed that he has no impact on the country’s direction regarding nuclear negotiations.

A proposal to Hand Over Negotiations to Parliament and the Expediency Council

The Gordian knot of the nuclear negotiations during Larijani and Jalili’s tenure brought forth suggestions to leave the talks to Parliament or the Expediency Council. The Etemad Melli Daily revisited how negotiations for the release of hostages from the American Embassy had been transferred to Parliament and suggested that a similar path could be taken in regard to the nuclear negotiations.

The proposal met with the approval of many MPs and the presiding board of Parliament. A similar proposal was put to Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council, who responded by saying that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei would have to approve such a transfer; however, the Iranian Supreme Leader did not make any comments in this regard and, thus, the suggestion did not take any serious shape.

Limits of the Negotiatioting Team

The Pride Nuclear Team lost the presidential election to Hassan Rohani, as Saeed Jalili did not even come close to posing a challenge to Rohani in his campaign. Now Rohani’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is waiting to get an offer to handle the nuclear dossier. The outcome of the nuclear negotiations does not depend on which body is allowed to handle them so much as it depends on their authority to deal with the issues, and this authority depends on the will of the Supreme Leader.

The leader’s view can be summarized in a term he has used in this regard: “Halting Point.” Ayatollah Khamenei has asked about the point at which Western demands over the nuclear issue will end.

He has been quoted as saying: “Let’s say we accept such and such a rider, then they propose another point; we accept such and such an illegitimate government; again they continue with their pressures and threats… I have told our officials who are being tempted time and time again: at what point is the United States going to stop pressuring us?”

These days many are hopeful that the new negotiating team will unravel the Gordian knot of nuclear disputes. The team must first clarify with the Supreme Leader the limits of its own authority in negotiating with the West. Those who are hopeful are suggesting that the negotiating team will be able to balance the halting point of the Supreme Leader with the demands of the West.


[translated from the Persian original]