Big shoes to fill

Iran’s new chief nuclear negotiator has a tough act to follow.

Jalili, left, is seen as more of an
Ahmadinejad ally than his predecessor [AFP]

Saturday was a hectic day in Iranian politics.

Ali Larijani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the country’s top nuclear negotiator, resigned from the position he held for more than two years and was immediately replaced by Saeed Jalili, a relatively young deputy foreign minister with no experience in nuclear talks.

Rajanews, a website that is known to be the unofficial voice of staunch supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadineajd, the Iranian president, calls him the perfect choice for the job.

Jalili, a 42-year-old with a doctorate in political science, has served in a wide range of positions in the Iranian foreign ministry since 1989.

After Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2005 presidential election he worked as an adviser to the president and has also worked as a deputy to the foreign minister in European and American affairs.

Jalili will meet Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, on Tuesday to continue talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

There is an obvious contrast between Jalili’s stature and that of his predecessor as Larijani was clearly representing the highest authority in Iranian politics, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad’s man?

Indeed on Monday an adviser to the supreme leader was quoted expressing regret at Larijani’s decision to stand down.
“It seems that if this had not happened, it would have been better,”  Ali Akbar Velayati, the most senior foreign policy adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted by Iran’s students news agency ISNA as saying.

“In the very important and sensitive situation where the nuclear issue is at the moment it would be better if this [the resignation] did not happen or at least it was prevented,” he added.

Jalili alternatively may be seen more as a representative of Ahmadinejad.

To pre-empt speculations that the change of guard may trigger, the Iranian leadership has decided that Larijani will also be present in talks on Tuesday.

“The negotiations will be held on Tuesday and Doctor [Ali] Larijani will attend the talks as the representative of the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei],” Mohammad Ali Hosseini, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, was quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency as saying.

“He will attend the talks by the emphasis of the supreme leader and president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] himself.”

Jalili is an unknown name to many ordinary Iranians, and no one doubts that he has to prepare himself for a challenging mission: to fill the shoes of one of the most prominent figures in the Islamic republic and to maintain his foreign policy achievements.

The Iran-EU talks on Tuesday for instance, are one example of Larijani’s political initiatives.

Larijani’s main objective has been to try and force Iran’s nuclear case from the UN security council’s agenda and send it firmly back into the remit of the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, where Iran says it belongs.

‘Technical duties’

That mission has not been accomplished yet, but Larijani’s efforts backed by the highest level of Iranian leadership, have succeeded in paving the way for a new round of Iran-IAEA co-operation.

Tehran’s unexpected openness in its dealings with the IAEA has resulted in solving one of its most problematic issues with the West, concerning Plutonium traces found in Iran.

That has in turn prompted the UN security council to postpone passing a third, and much tougher, resolution against Iran and imposing further sanctions.

Despite such a breakthrough, and contrary to what Ahmadineajd has said on several occasions, Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West is far from over, and the government will continue to have a need for experienced men like Larijani.

The government, however, has played down Larijani’s resignation and government officials have denied that it could be seen as a sign of growing divisions within the Islamic establishment.

“Jalili, as a young and energetic yet experienced diplomat, will practically continue Larijani’s work; the only difference would be that the remaining duties are mostly technical and legal in nature,” Mohammad Mehdi Soltani, a national security council adviser, was quoted by Rajanews as saying.

“If anybody tends to interpret Larijani’s resignation as a sign of divisions among the Islamic Republic officials or a war for power within the system, they are moving in line with the psychological warfare of the enemies,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera


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