Iran's Western-educated foreign minister will take the lead in nuclear talks with world powers, an Iranian diplomat said Tuesday, in a sign the Islamic Republic may seek a less confrontational approach to negotiations over its disputed nuclear program than in past years.
Since the election of centrist Hasan Rouhani as president in June, the country has trumpeted what it says will be a fresh new style in its dealings with a six-nation group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — over the program.
The main thrust of the plan, officials say, is to maintain the program but abandon the bombastic negotiating style used under Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But by sidelining the Supreme National Security Council, security-minded men who had previously led the talks and were hand-picked by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the new president, who considers himself a moderate, will be able to exercise more influence in the case.
"The nuclear dossier has been transferred to the Foreign Ministry," the official said Tuesday, adding that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a veteran diplomat, will now be top nuclear negotiator. He spoke anonymously as he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The standoff with Iran stems from Western allegations Tehran is pursuing weapons technology, a charge it denies, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
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.
Khamenei, who has ultimate authority on all matters of state, also appears to have given his blessing to a more diplomatic approach to the West.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Khamenei, told The Associated Press earlier this week that Iran needed to "talk with a different language."
He added however that the country will not again suspend the key process of uranium 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 says she will "soon" meet Zarif amid the need for swift and substantial talks over the nuclear program. Catherine Ashton's office said she called the minister on Saturday to congratulate him on his appointment.
Zarif has said he welcomed resumption of talks but called for "purposeful and time-limited" negotiations.
"Dr. Zarif is now in the process of selecting his negotiating team before preparing for talks with the six-nation group," the official said.
Zarif did postgraduate studies at San Francisco State University and obtained a doctorate in international law and policy at the University of Denver. Zarif also raised his profile in the U.S. as a diplomat at Iran's U.N. Mission in New York during a five-year posting that ended in 2007.
Rouhani hopes Zarif's expertise and years of experience in dealing with Americans as Iran's top U.N. envoy will help his government understand the American way of thinking. Zarif worked with Rouhani back when the president was Iran's top nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005.
Rouhani has also said he wants more senior officials — in particular foreign ministers — from the six-member group to talk to Iran.