International American Council

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Middle East and North Africa

Iran’s new president vows to resume nuclear talks

In newly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s first public address since taking his oath of office, he promised to defrost the previously icy relationship between Iran and the West, particularly the United States, and enter “serious and substantive” negotiations on the country’s nuclear development.

Previously, Rouhani had been described by sources inside Iran and in the international press as a moderate reformist, although it is still not clear what exactly this will mean in concrete terms, especially as the country’s actual most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is still a relatively hardline conservative. However, it appears that on the nuclear issue, at least, Rouhani is willing to at least try to live up to his reformist image by resuming the talks his combative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, halted—and for the international community, solving the nuclear debacle is Iran’s most important issue.

Thus far, those both inside and outside Iran are approaching Rouhani’s statement with only the most cautious optimism. In his press conference, Rouhani warned that talks will be successful only “if we see there is no covert secret agenda and there are good intentions,” and the U.S. will need to be the first party to take steps to resume talks. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki noted, “There are steps [Iranians] need to take to meet their international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, and the ball is in their court.” After all, talks have been stalled so many times by different factions in Iranian and foreign governments that their success now, or even their resumption, is not guaranteed.

Sanctions will likely be a key factor in the success or failure of nuclear talks within the next few months and years. Rouhani’s newly appointed foreign minister Mohammad Zarif was educated in the U.S., a gambit some in the U.S. believe is indicative of Rouhani’s desire to eliminate the sanctions which have crippled the Iranian economy. Rouhani likely hopes that Zarif, with his history of negotiating secretly with the U.S. when he was Iran’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations, will be able to persuade the U.S. and the U.N. to lift sanctions.

But across the pond, several American senators have been pressuring U.S. President Barack Obama to actually tighten sanctions. This group of senators believes Rouhani’s pleas for talks to resume is just a procrastinating ploy so Iran can develop its nuclear program even further, and increased sanctions are necessary to curb this ploy. However, given that Rouhani seems earnest in his desire to resume talks and economically aid his country by having sanctions lifted, it hardly seems productive for the Obama administration’s goals of an unarmed Iran to give Rouhani the exact opposite of what he wants.

Most importantly, Rouhani has maintained what his predecessor Ahmadinejad and other leaders within Iran have insisted for the entire duration of Iran’s nuclear program: it is Iran’s sovereign right to develop nuclear power, and the country has no intention of halting them, but wishes to continue for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and other countries will need to verify and accept this in order for talks to get anywhere.

By Laura Gates

Source: Reuters, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Fox News, The New York Times

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