Iran Nuclear NewsIran has new nuclear negotiator, but similar stance

Iran has new nuclear negotiator, but similar stance

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New York Times: Iran’s new chief nuclear negotiator made his international debut in Rome on Tuesday, to a chorus of unusually blunt criticism by politicians in Tehran that the departure of his predecessor was unwise. The New York Times

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By ELAINE SCIOLINO and PETER KIEFER
Published: October 24, 2007

ROME, Oct. 23 — Iran’s new chief nuclear negotiator made his international debut in Rome on Tuesday, to a chorus of unusually blunt criticism by politicians in Tehran that the departure of his predecessor was unwise.

Saeed Jalili, the negotiator, met with the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who has been asked by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to find a formula to persuade Iran to suspend key nuclear activities.

Curiously, at Mr. Jalili’s side was Ali Larijani, his predecessor, who took the lead in the closed-door talks and in remarks afterward to reporters.

Mr. Solana described the talks as “constructive,” and Mr. Larijani called them “good.” But there was no movement on the one issue that matters, said participants in the meeting who spoke under normal diplomatic rules: Iran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment as required by the United Nations Security Council.

And just hours before the talks, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeated his vow to never give in on that issue.

“Iran will not retreat one iota,” he said on state-run television on a trip to Armenia, adding, “We are in favor of talks, but we will not negotiate with anyone about our right to nuclear technology.”

In the Rome meeting, both sides were relaxed even as they spoke past each other, participants said. Mr. Larijani stressed that Iran was cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency in answering questions about Iran’s nuclear activities in the past, and therefore should be rewarded, not punished, by the international community.

Mr. Solana said, as he has in the past, that the Security Council requires Iran to suspend its production of enriched uranium, which can be used for civilian or military purposes. “Suspension is the crucial issue if the Iranians want to get off the hook of more sanctions,” said one participant. “They seem to think they are doing enough.”

The brief news conference revealed nothing about the fundamental divide. “Negotiation and cooperation is our basic approach,” Mr. Jalili said, adding that it was necessary to first “address the misunderstandings.”

Mr. Larijani said, “We are after no adventure and we are after no trouble-making.”

He dismissed speculation that his resignation last week stemmed from differences with his president, saying, “Today, I am supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president, and I do support our dear friend, Mr. Jalili, who is a gracious character as well.”

The talks continued over dinner, and Mr. Solana held out the prospect that the two sides would meet again before the end of November.

But Mr. Larijani’s resignation from the post he had held since 2005 and his replacement by a mid-ranking deputy foreign minister and political protégé of the president has elicited surprisingly harsh criticism in Iran.

Mr. Larijani had been a political rival of Mr. Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential race. He is said to be close to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who appointed him to the nuclear post, and retains considerable support in the corridors of power in Iran.

“It was not possible for Mr. Larijani and Mr. Ahmadinejad to work together any longer,” Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a deputy speaker of Parliament and an ally of the president, bluntly told reporters in Parliament on Sunday. He praised Mr. Larijani as an “outstanding figure.”

Similarly, Ali Akbar Velayati, who served as foreign minister for more than 15 years and is now senior foreign policy adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, criticized the replacement of Mr. Larijani.

“In the very important and sensitive situation where the nuclear issue is at the moment, it would be better if this did not happen, or at least it was prevented,” Mr. Velayati said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Mohammed Hashemi, a former vice president and the brother of a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was even more outspoken. “It is very disappointing that the government does not tolerate even views of a person like Mr. Larijani and would eliminate him in such a manner,” he told an Iranian Web site.

Rashid Jalali Jaffari, a deputy in Parliament, warned that Mr. Larijani’s departure could make Iran’s nuclear position more rigid. “We will invite related officials to Parliament this week and will advise them to prevent the new team from becoming radical,” he told the daily newspaper Hamshahri on Monday.

Mr. Larijani, the former head of Iran’s state-run radio and television, had tried repeatedly to resign from the thankless nuclear post, complaining to his European interlocutors that he had no authority to negotiate and asking for their patience, several officials said. On Sunday, he was replaced.

Like Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Jalili is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and still walks with a limp from his war wounds. He holds a doctorate in political science.

Mr. Jalili’s appointment may signal a clarification rather than a hardening of Iran’s policy. Mr. Larijani pleaded with the Europeans for understanding and room to maneuver, and he avoided the fiery bombast of Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to several European officials who dealt with him. By contrast, they said, Mr. Jalili, as the Foreign Ministry official responsible for European and American affairs, did not pretend to try to negotiate, but tended to lecture with a sweet demeanor that belied his steely messages.

“He doesn’t listen or pretend to listen,” said one European official who has dealt with him. “It’s not a dialogue of the deaf. It’s a monologue of the deaf.”

The change in Iran’s negotiating team comes as the Security Council agreed to delay new sanctions against Iran drawn up because of its refusal to stop producing enriched uranium, which can be used to make electricity or fuel weapons. The world powers intend to wait at least until November when the I.A.E.A. will report on whether Iran has given credible explanations about its nuclear activities.

Elaine Sciolino reported from Paris, and Peter Kiefer from Rome.

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