Tue, Sep 24, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Rouhani’s reformist tone drives hope of nuclear deal with West

As the outline of a nuclear deal between Tehran and the West begins to emerge ahead of the UN General Assembly this week, optimism that the longstanding feud will be resolved is high as Iran’s new leader takes action to bring about his vision of an Iran whose people have access to information and the right to speak and think freely

By Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday last week signalled his intention to lead a new Iran on to the international stage at the UN next week, laying out a manifesto for personal freedom at home and compromise abroad.

“We want the people in their private life to be completely free,” Iran’s newly elected leader told NBC News, after a string of prisoner releases.

He also pledged to create a citizens’ rights commission “in the near future.”

“In today’s world, having access to information and the right of free dialogue and the right to think freely is the right of all people, including the people of Iran,” Rouhani said.

Rouhani also vowed that Iran would never seek nuclear weapons and insisted his government had “complete authority” to resolve the 11-year international impasse over Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

The bold rhetoric, backed up by a series of concrete steps taken with the apparent backing of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has raised hopes of major diplomatic breakthroughs in the coming months, affecting the long-stalled nuclear negotiations and perhaps the Syrian conflict, too.

Optimism before Rouhani’s debut on the world stage at the UN General Assembly today is tempered among Western diplomats by uncertainty over Khamenei’s readiness to accept significant limits on the country’s nuclear program, long cherished by the regime as central to national prestige and dignity.

Observers of the long deadlock between Tehran and international community over Iran’s uranium enrichment voiced concern over the West’s ability to respond to Rouhani’s overtures quickly enough to bolster his still-fragile control over the machinery of government.

“I think he has significant leeway to reach a deal, but that this window of opportunity is limited. We need to see tangible progress in the months to come, otherwise hardliners will undercut Rouhani,” Tehran-based analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani said.

Rouhani, a Glasgow-educated pragmatist and former nuclear negotiator who decisively won presidential elections in June, has orchestrated a charm offensive before the general assembly, which his government clearly views as a critical moment for escaping the isolation exacerbated by his mercurial predecessor, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

New Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif was due to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton yesterday to lay the groundwork for Rouhani’s general assembly speech the next day.

However, Zarif arrived in New York five days early to network with diplomatic contacts largely made when he was ambassador to the UN a decade ago, under Iran’s last moderate government. Over the past few weeks, Iranian officials have sent signals that they would be open to significant compromises on the nuclear program that could pave the way to a deal.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran head Ali Akbar Salehi suggested recently that the country could accept the “additional protocol” of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which allows inspectors to visit sites other than those declared by the government as nuclear-related. That step is seen as essential by the IAEA in strengthened international confidence that there is no covert weapons program running in parallel with the civil nuclear project.

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