Iran Election: Change in Nuclear Diplomacy?

A major consideration ahead of Iran’s June 14 election is the impact of a new presidency on the country’s future nuclear negotiations. While the president in Iran lacks the power to decide on the strategy guiding nuclear talks, he has a substantial role in determining the style and tactics of negotiations.

Iran’s Supreme Leader has the final say on both foreign policy and national security issues. The nuclear dossier has been handled by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), an indication that the Supreme Leader views the nuclear issue as one of national security, and that national security and energy policy are interlinked. But while the president has a seat on the SNSC, and therefore has an influential voice in policy formulation, he holds neither command over the country’s armed forces, nor the capacity to ‘securitize’ an issue as a threat against the Islamic Republic. As Ayatollah Khamenei has long regarded sanctions and political pressure to be driven by regime change and not physics, the notion that current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was ever the crucial variable driving Tehran to insist on its right to enrichment is a fallacy.

Yet while the Supreme Leader might set the agenda of negotiations, Iran’s next president and negotiation team will be expected to decide on the tone and ultimately ‘sell’ a deal to Ayatollah  Khamenei. Two of the presidential candidates have served as secretary of the SNSC: Hassan Rouhani (1989-2005) and Saeed Jalili (2007-13). Both Rouhani and Jalili have played crucial roles during nuclear negotiations with the West under the administrations of Mohammad Khatami (2003-05) and Ahmadinejad (2007-13) respectively, maintaining distinctive styles. While it is often wrongly assumed that it was a ‘hardline’ Ahmadinejad who resumed uranium enrichment in 2005, this decision was in fact taken near the end of Khatami’s second administration, when Rouhani was secretary of the SNSC.


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