Iran sent strong signals on Tuesday that its new Foreign Minister, an American-educated diplomat with a deep understanding of the United States, would assume the additional role of leading the Iranian delegation in talks with the major powers over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
Such a change under the new President, Hasan Rouhani, would be a significant departure for Iran in the nuclear talks. Mr. Rouhani, a moderate cleric who won the presidency in June over his more conservative rivals, has pledged to reduce tensions with the West over the nuclear issue.
Mr. Rouhani’s choice for Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was confirmed by Parliament last week. The signals that Mr. Zarif would lead nuclear negotiations were conveyed on Tuesday at a regular weekly news conference in Tehran by the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Mr. Zarif (53) is widely considered the most important new face in Mr. Rouhani’s Cabinet because of his background in the United States. He is known for having sought to improve relations with the West and the United States in particular, preferring to refer to it as a rival nation and not the enemy, the name commonly used by hard-line conservatives.
He was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He was sidelined and eventually replaced after the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who escalated Iran’s nuclear activities and often inveighed against the West.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman’s statement on Tuesday was the second time in five days that personnel changes under Mr. Rouhani have suggested that a shake-up in strategy on the nuclear issue may be under way.
On Friday, Iranian state news media announced that Fereydoon Abassi, a hard-line nuclear scientist, who narrowly escaped assassination nearly three years ago in a bombing that Iran attributed to Israeli agents, had been removed as the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.
Mr. Abassi’s replacement was the former Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, widely considered the most practical member of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet. — New York Times News Service