London, Asharq Al-Awsat—With the approaching inauguration of Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, speculation has been growing as to who he will select to represent Iran in its talks over its controversial nuclear program with Western powers.
In Iran, speculation has been fuelled by foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s announcement that Tehran would continue nuclear talks as soon as president-elect Hassan Rouhani puts together his negotiating team. The key appointment will be the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, who serves as the chief negotiator.
In appointing a new secretary, Rouhani faces a delicate balancing act, as he does in many other aspects of his forthcoming presidential administration. He has to find figures able to command the respect of Iran’s different political factions, with the added problem that a nuclear negotiator must also be able to deal successfully with representatives of the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).
Much of the speculation has focused on a small group of less than ten candidates from different political factions, from fundamentalists Ali Akbar Velayati and Ali Janati to reformists Sirous Naseri and Hossein Mousavian.
The reformist daily Etemaad recently published a list of eight possible new members of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, although there are many more potential candidates:
Mohammad Javad Zarif acted as Iran’s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN from 1992 to 2007, but has been rarely seen in the political arena since then. Before Rouhani’s election, it was said that he was focused instead on academia. Zarif has also served as a senior assistant to Iran’s foreign minister, deputy foreign minister for international and legal affairs, and secretary of Tehran’s Islamic Summit. In addition, he was previously a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team when it was headed by Rouhani. He is currently a faculty member at the School of International Relations, which is run by the Iranian foreign ministry.
Ali Akbar Velayati is a former foreign minister and foreign affairs aide to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Although a member of the hardline conservative “principalist” faction, former presidential candidate Ali Akabar Velayati displayed more in common with moderate Hassan Rouhani than with the other principalist candidates in the campaign’s televised debates. Rouhani and Velayati agreed on several occasions, backed each other up, and sharply criticized principalist candidate Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, for his policies. Considering Velayati’s experience in foreign policy, he is seen as a strong candidate.
Sirous Naseri came to the fore during Iran’s negotiation on UN Resolution 598, which called for a ceasefire in the Iran–Iraq War. He served as a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team after Rouhani took office as the secretary of Supreme National Security Council. A former Iranian ambassador to Geneva and Vienna, Naseri also briefly served as the spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team when it was headed by Rouhani.
Seyyed Hossein Mousavian also served as the spokesman for Rouhani’s nuclear negotiating team, and is now a visiting scholar at Princeton University in the US. Thanks to his academic credentials, he was appointed as a member of the Supreme National Security Council for nuclear talks during Rouhani’s term of office. He was ousted after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. Mousavian has also served as Iranian ambassador to Germany, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, senior nuclear negotiator, deputy head of the Center for Strategic Research, a founding member of the Moderation and Development Party and the manager of Iran News, one of the few English-language dailies in Iran.
Mohammad Reza Alborzi is Iran’s former ambassador and representative to the UN headquarters in Geneva. He has been the deputy to International Relations Research of Strategic Research Center, as well as the general manager of the Political and International Studies Department of Iran’s foreign ministry during Kamal Kharazi’s term of office.
Amir Hossein Zamaninia is a former member of the nuclear negotiation team and is currently working at the Centre for Strategic Research. Zamaninia chaired Rouhani’s first press conference after his election in June. Previously, Zamaninia was deputy of the International Relations Department at the Centre for Strategic Research; a senior expert in the political, international and legal department at the foreign ministry; ambassador to Malaysia; and a member of the nuclear negotiation team. He was among senior members of the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.
Seyed Mohammad Sadr is a significant figure in the reformists’ circle of foreign policy specialists, serving under former president Khatami as deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, as Khatami’s advisor, and as a senior researcher at the Institute for Political and International Studies at Iran’s foreign ministry. He is a co-founder of the Islamic Iran Participation Front.
Ali Jannati, son of the prominent Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, is seen as is politically closer to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. He served previously as the head Islamic Republic Broadcasting Corporation in Khuzestan Province, as well as in the provincial government, and as Hashemi Rafsanjani’s chief of staff in his parliamentary office. He was subsequently appointed Iranian ambassador to Kuwait, and was deputy director of political affairs of Iran’s foreign ministry. Jannati’s close alliance with Rouhani makes him a potential candidate in Rouhani’s team.
Fereidoun Verdinejad was an ambassador to China under President Khatami, but otherwise has little background in foreign affairs. He was director of Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, and the newspaper Iran from 1993 to 2001. In addition, he was a co-founder of the Moderation and Development Party, and has been a lecturer at Tarbiat Modares University, the former deputy leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, and member of the political, scientific and strategic committee for Iran’s 20-year economic plan. As a long-time personal friend of Rouhani, he may nevertheless be picked as a member of the new president’s foreign policy team.
Mahmoud Vaezi is a veteran diplomat in Iran’s foreign ministry, which he joined in 1986. He was the managing director and chairman of doard of directors of the Telecommunication Company of Iran from 1979 to 1986, political advisor to the deputy foreign minister for European and American Affairs from 1990 to 1997, and economics advisor to the deputy foreign minister from 1997 to 1998. In addition, he was deputy foreign minister for European affairs in the 2000s, and is Rouhani’s chief advisor on foreign policy. He currently serves as a foreign policy researcher at the Centre for Strategic Research. According to the Etemaad newspaper, Vaezi might also be in the running for foreign minister under Rouhani.
Ali-Akbar Salehi‘s diplomatic background and his active role in the nuclear negotiation team makes him a potential candidate for Rouhani despite his tenure as President Ahmadinejad’s foreign minister. However, he announced yesterday that he had not been invited to serve in the president-elect’s cabinet. He has been the president of Sharif University of Technology, and served as the permanent representative of Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He was also a member of the nuclear negotiation team under Rouhani and Iran’s ambassador to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah.
Mohammad Saeedi is a relative unknown. He previously served on the nuclear negotiation team, and as deputy chief for international and parliamentary affairs at the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization.
Mohammad-Mehdi Akhoundzadeh, a former Iranian ambassador to Germany, later joined the nuclear negotiation team. He has an extensive background in diplomacy, serving variously as deputy foreign minister for commonwealth affairs, ambassador to India, adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, head of the Asia department at the Center for Strategic Research, deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, and deputy foreign minister for Middle East affairs.