Iran parliament endorses new president's diplomatic approach

Western governments consider allowing Iran to continue some uranium enrichment after Rouhani's outreach

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society in New York, Sept. 26, 2013.
Keith Bedford/Reuters

Iran's parliament strongly endorsed President Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic bid to dispel mistrust at the United Nations last week during a visit that ended with a phone call with President Barack Obama, the country’s semi-official news agency Iranian Fars said.

The backing from the assembly, controlled by political factions deeply loyal to Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a further sign that Rouhani has the support of the Iranian establishment.

Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran, has yet to publicly comment on Rouhani's trip.

Rouhani briefed parliamentarians on his trip, which included discussions on Iran's nuclear dispute with the West and regional relations, the student news agency ISNA said late Tuesday.

A group of 230 parliamentarians, out of the total of 290, signed a statement expressing their support of Rouhani for presenting the image of a "powerful and peace-seeking Iran which seeks talks and interaction for the settlement of regional and international issues," Fars news agency said.

While Rouhani's visit to New York has boosted hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough in talks to resolve the 10-year-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed it on Tuesday as a ruse concocted by a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

The United States, Israel and other countries accuse Iran of using its nuclear program as a veil for efforts to try to develop the capability to produce weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful energy purposes only.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Netanyahu and "the Zionist lobby" were trying to hinder negotiations.

"We will not let Netanyahu determine the future of our talks," Zarif wrote on his Facebook page.

The next round of the talks between Iran and the six world powers are set to be held in Geneva on Oct. 15-16.

Rouhani told the U.N. General Assembly last week that Iran was willing to engage immediately in "time-bound" talks on the nuclear issue.

End to Iran sanctions?

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Western governments are considering allowing Iran to continue some uranium enrichment, as part of a possible deal to resolve a decade-old dispute that Tehran says it wants to reach within six months, a senior European Union diplomat said.

The new stance – a reaction to Rouhani's overtures to the West – would mean easing a longstanding demand that Iran suspend all enrichment, due to concerns Tehran could be developing nuclear weapons.

In an interview with Reuters, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said: "I believe part of the game is that if the Iranians prove that whatever they are doing is peaceful, it will, as I understand, be possible for them to conduct it."

"It's conditional. It is not a done deal, but nevertheless it is a possibility to explore," he said.

Lithuania holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of this year.

A series of U.N. Security Council resolutions urge Iran to halt enrichment. One of them demands "full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."

Iran has refused to comply, saying its membership of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty gives it the right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology. That refusal has drawn several rounds of U.N. and Western sanctions.

Rouhani, a relative moderate elected in June, has reiterated Iran's insistence that it does not seek nuclear weapons. He has promised to clear up international concerns, hoping for an easing of sanctions that have hit the country’s ability to export oil.

Western diplomats are cautious about the rapprochement, saying Iran has yet to offer any concrete proposals. Many privately acknowledge the belief that Tehran would likely need to be allowed to keep some lower-level enrichment activity as part of a broader political settlement, as long as U.N. inspectors are allowed sufficient oversight powers.

In a series of negotiations since April last year, six world powers have told Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity – a level that closes an important technological gap toward making weapons-grade material.

That demand will not change, diplomats say. But in theory Iran could be allowed to continue lower-level enrichment, up to 5 percent, to produce fuel suitable for nuclear power plants.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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