The West is hoping for progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran - because of signals of a new reliability under President Rouhani. Iran meanwhile hopes for an easing of sanctions. So is a breakthrough on the cards?
Both during his election campaign and in his acceptance speech before parliament, Iran's new President Hasan Rouhani stressed that solving the country's economic problems was his top priority. At the same time he announced that he would try to work toward better relations with the west, whose sanctions are having a paralyzing effect on Iran's economy.
Apart from the nuclear conflict, one main obstacle on the way to improved relations always was the anti-Israeli rhetoric of Rouhani's predecessor Ahmadinejad. With his rants against Israel and his denial of holocaust as a historical fact he regularly isolated himself in the UN's General Assembly.
Iran's new leadership is apparently trying to shake off this pariah image and instead sending more conciliatory signals. Last week, a Twitter comment allegedly posted by Rouhani caused a stir in which he wished "all Jews, and in particular the Jews in Iran a blessed Jewish New Year." Rouhani's top advisor later denied both the rumor and the existence of a Twitter account in Rouhani's name.
"Never denied Holocaust"
But nobody denied the New Year wishes to the Jewish community sent out by foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif the next day in social networks and in an interview with news portal Tasnim. He combined the greetings with the statement that "Iran never denied holocaust," and instead condemned the "massacre of the Jews committed by the National Socialists."
Observers see yet another signal for a new, more committed stance by Tehran: the fact that the foreign affairs ministry and with it Javad Zarif will in future lead the nuclear negotiations with the West. Until now, the National Security Council led by Saeed Jalili was in charge.
"Rouhani's decision to hand the nuclear dossier over to the foreign affairs ministry shows that the new government wants to embark on a new path with the West in the nuclear conflict," Reza Taghizadeh, professor for international relations at Glasgow University, told Deutsche Welle. In the past, the nuclear talks focused on Iran's security interests. But the new government under Rouhani, said Taghizadeh, would instead stress political and economic issues in the negotiations.
Iran wants to see results
Sometime later this month, the EU's High Commissioner of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, is planning to hold a bilateral meeting with Zarif at the UN's General Assembly to assess possibilities of five-plus-one negotiations. All parties concerned are aware of one thing: an American military strike against the regime in Syria would disrupt all diplomatic plans.
Under both former presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, Zarif was deputy foreign minister and later served as Iran's UN ambassador between 2002 and 2007. During his time with the UN in New York, he would often convene for informal talks with US diplomats to assess the chances of a normalization of bilateral relations.
With somebody else in charge at the stalled nuclear talks on the Iranian side, there are chances for a new beginning, said Reza Taghizadeh. "The negotiations will not be easy because Iran doesn't want to give up its nuclear program as such." But the new government, he added, is determined to reach an easing of sanctions through means of diplomacy. "That gives reason to hope that the talks will be more successful than in the past," said the political scientist.
'Now it's about the survival of the system'
Zarif is known as somebody "who knows how to present the ideas of the superior spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a diplomatic language," said Berlin-based political expert Mehran Barati in an interview with Deutsche Welle. The question is what exactly Khamenei's ideas are. He still has the last word on Iran's nuclear policy.
Mehran Barati is optimistic. Iran's disastrous economic situation has convinced the leaders of the Islamic Republic to embark on a new path in the nuclear conflict to guarantee the survival of the system. So far, said Barati, Iran has tried to use the nuclear program to extend the country's status as regional hegomonial power. "It seems as if Iran has changed its mind," said Barati. "There is an increased likelihood that Rouhani and Zarif will manage to reach a peaceful settlement of the nuclear conflict."
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