DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will lead nuclear talks with world powers, Fars news agency reported on Sunday, a move that would see the experienced pragmatist succeed a conservative who had overseen a hardening of Tehran’s position.
The report echoes a widespread expectation that the moderate Zarif will take over the sensitive role in line with an apparent desire by the country’s new centrist president, Hassan Rouhani, to bring a more conciliatory approach to talks over Western powers’ fears that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Since 2007, sporadic negotiations had been conducted by the hardline Saeed Jalili, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who was seen by Western interlocutors as an uncompromising ideologue.
There was no immediate confirmation of the report.
Earlier this month Iran announced that the foreign ministry would take over the running of the talks from the Supreme National Security Council, the body that Jalili headed, but it did not name the chief of the negotiating team.
Analysts say Rouhani, a relative moderate elected in June to replace conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be trying to streamline nuclear diplomacy and exert more influence, although Iran’s most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, retains the final say on any proposed deals.
The agency also said discussions could start this week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The report stated that Zarif was to meet European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in New York on Monday morning and that a meeting between Iran and representatives of world powers was “probable” on Wednesday.
Iran’s newly-selected nuclear team also includes Abbas Araghchi, deputy minister for legal and international affairs, and Majid Takht Ravanchi, deputy for Europe and America, the report stated.
The team comprises four others, including a representative from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation and one from its Supreme National Security Council.
Reporting by Marcus George, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Potter