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Who should Lead Iran's New Nuclear Team?

By Nader Bagherzadeh

The first and most important decision Rohani, the newly elected Iranian president, has to make is to select a capable and competent nuclear team for future discussions with P5+1. Resolving the nuclear issue will overshadow everything else that Rohani has to accomplish in the first year of his presidency.

Draconian sanctions have derailed Iran's economy far beyond any criticism one could blame on Ahmadinejad's domestic economic policies mismanagement. According to Suri, the former manager of the South Pars project in the Persian Gulf, several phases of this gigantic natural gas facility have been delayed directly because of sanctions that have impacted acquisition of technology and equipment.

Misunderstanding domestic politics of the U.S. by Tehran as it relates to Israel's security is at the heart of why these biting sanctions have been piling up on Iran's economy. The Iranian foreign policymakers should understand that the US Congress is incapable of ratcheting down sanctions because of the relentless pressure from the Israeli lobby. Even though U.S. is ostensibly too cautious to start yet another illegal war in the Middle East, the big economic stick that it carries unilaterally can still inflict dire consequences in terms of blocking international transactions, commerce, and transportation. Thus, the new administration in Iran should pursue a more moderate approach in its foreign policy; carefully avoid sound bites that can be taken out of context by the western media, which could provoke public to support more aggressive policies against Iran.

The leader of Iran's new nuclear negotiation team has to have seasoned diplomatic skills, be well versed in nuclear concepts: technical as well as non‐proliferation treaty laws, and be in full command of the English language. Currently there is only one person in the Islamic Republic that can meet all these three conditions and that person is the current foreign minister Salehi. He has done a great job as the face of Iran in the international arena. As a diplomat, he has avoided incendiary comments about the Holocaust or elimination of Israel, at the same time maintained Islamic Republic's position on the rights of Palestinians.

He has a doctoral degree in nuclear engineering from MIT, was a professor and the Chancellor of the Sharif University of Technology, and he is probably the most knowledgeable diplomat in Iran in terms of details of nuclear enrichment and power generation. He has served in Vienna, as Iran's ambassador to the IAEA. He is intimately familiar with NPT rules and member obligations under that treaty. Finally, he speaks English fluently which is essential for discussions with P5+1 and also for any direct negotiations with the American team.

There are other prominent Iranian diplomats who could be seriously considered to participate as part of this negotiating team. For instance, Zarif the former Iran's representative at the UN was instrumental during the negotiations with the US for the future of Afghanistan and has had long professional relationship with American politicians. Another important figure is Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator during Khatami's presidency and a member of Rohani's nuclear team in early 2000's. Having lived in the US for the past several years as a Princeton Scholar, his knowledge of the US politics, tough nuclear issues, and what a realistic negotiation entails will be invaluable.

Even if the best team is assembled for these negotiations, there are serious issues that may not be resolved in the near future, if at all, unless Iran capitulates on its full rights under NPT for nascent enrichment capability. The leadership in Tehran is under no illusion that the US may fully recognize Iran's enrichment rights at the end, regardless of the level of confidence building measures that Islamic Republic may agree to adopt.

If the P5+1 group offers the Almaty proposal with minor changes to sweeten the deal, at least the 20% enrichment can be halted, provided the reciprocating sanction relieves are meaningful. This would be the best Rohani and his to be appointed team can hope for in the near term. Of course, tied to the 20% enrichment are tough decisions by Iran on the future of the underground Fordo facility and opening up centrifuge R&D facilities to regular inspections, which are all confidence building measures beyond the current comprehensive safeguard agreement with the IAEA.

... Payvand News - 07/24/13 ... --

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