Iran Supreme Leader Sending Top Aide To Nuclear Talks: Report


WASHINGTON -- The prospects of striking a deal with Iran over its nuclear program appeared to brighten Saturday, with reports that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be sending a top foreign policy adviser to the latest round of talks.

The adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, may join talks in Oman between Secretary of State John Kerry, top European Union negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the Middle East news site Al-Monitor reported Saturday afternoon, citing sources who asked to remain anonymous.

U.S. and Iranian officials did not respond to requests to confirm whether Velayati will participate in the talks, Al-Monitor said. A conservative Iranian media outlet denied Al-Monitor's report.

The talks in Oman are set to begin on Nov. 9.

If confirmed, Velayati's presence would show that Khamenei, a hard-liner who is generally seen as a hurdle to a broader Iranian rapprochement with the West, believes a settlement is within reach.

Analysts said on Twitter that the news suggested that diplomacy with Iran was working.

The talks in Oman come shortly before the Nov. 24 deadline for a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. The P5+1 -- a negotiating group that includes the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany -- is seeking an agreement that would be more lasting and provide broader certainty that Iran's program is not for military purposes than the temporary deal reached in November 2013. That interim agreement eased some economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for commitments on transparency and rolling back uranium enrichment.

The talks are critical for the Obama administration, which has heavily invested in reaching a settlement with Iran.

President Barack Obama came under fire from critics this week after The Wall Street Journal revealed that he had sent a personal letter about the talks to the supreme leader in October, in which the president said the U.S. and Iran might cooperate in the fight against the Islamic State militant group if the two sides were able to accomplish a nuclear deal. The New York Times reported Friday that the letter emphasized the common interests shared by the U.S. and Iran.

But observers said the letter revealed that Obama misunderstands the way the Iranian government views the talks: It likely does not see U.S help against the Islamic State as critical, and could instead be using Western concerns over the group to obtain broader concessions on uranium enrichment.

The reports of Obama's letter are likely to have unsettled regional allies ranging from Israel to the U.S.'s Arab partners in the fight against the Islamic State -- none of whom, The Wall Street Journal said, had been informed about Obama's communication with Khamenei.

Republican leaders in Congress blasted the letter as well. Earlier this year, members of Congress from both parties also criticized the president over reports that his administration will, if a deal is reached, use executive authority to loosen sanctions on Iran without congressional consent.

Iran's deputy foreign minister said Saturday that both sides in the talks are committed to reaching a deal within weeks and that Iran sees a diplomatic settlement as the only way to resolve the crisis over its nuclear program.

This week also brought news that could complicate a final deal: The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that, although Iran has complied with promises to limit uranium enrichment, which are key to the current talks, it has not been cooperating fully with efforts to investigate the country's potential covert weapons production capacity. Any new deal would likely require broader inspections of Iran's program.

Representatives from other countries involved in the negotiations will join Kerry, Ashton and Zarif on Nov 11. The next round of talks, which is likely to be the last, will begin in Vienna on Nov. 18.

Before You Go

Ahmadinejad out, Rouhani in
The thaw in relations owes a lot to this guy - president Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in June 2013. In the 19 months between the British embassy closing and Rouhani's election, relations between Britain and Iran failed to improve - Britain even sending a warship to the Gulf over fears Iran may block the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. But Rouhani's election marks a sea change. He is seen as more moderate than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is elected promising to improve relations with the West. His election prompts Britain to say it is interested in improving relations "step by step".
Rouhani addresses the UN
Rouhani visits New York City in September 2013, three months after his election. It is seen as a major break with his predecessor's line on "The Great Satan" and signals a desire to improve US/Iran relations. He addresses the UN, saying "peace is within reach" and offers negotiations to allay "reasonable concerns" the West has over his country's nuclear programme. In the same month, foreign secretary William Hague meets with his Iranian counterpart. Hague said he welcomed Iran's offers to slow down its uranium enrichment programme.
Obama and Rouhani's historic phone call
September 28 2013 - A 15-minute phone call between Obama and Rouhani is hailed as a historic moment that ends the 34-year diplomatic freeze between the two countries. It is the first conversation between an American and Iranian leader since 1979. Rouhani tweeted about the conversation, saying Obama ended it by saying "goodbye" in Farsi.
Diplomats exchanged
In the same month, foreign secretary William Hague meets with his Iranian counterpart. Hague said he welcomed Iran's offers to slow down its uranium enrichment programme. In October, Hague and Mohammad Javad Zarif (pictured right) announced that the countries will exchange diplomats with a view to re-opening permanent embassies in each country.
Cameron calls Rouhani
November 2013 - After Obama becomes the first American president to call the Iranian leader in 34 years, David Cameron calls him too, becoming the first prime minister to do so in more than a decade. "The two leaders discussed the bilateral relationship between Britain and Iran welcoming the steps taken since President Rouhani took office," a Downing Street spokesman says. "They agreed to continue efforts to improve the relationship on a step by step and reciprocal basis." Cameron also implores Rouhani to be "more transparent" with Iran's nuclear programme, Downing Street says.
About that embassy...
Suddenly, being friends became a lot more urgent when ISIS took Mosul, Iraq's second city, and began tearing through the country executing opponents and imposing strict Islamic law on the population. The Sunni militants' rise has been blamed on the pro-Shia stance of Iraq's Malaki government. Under Saddam, the country's Sunni minority dominated political life and fought an eight-year with Iran, which is a Shia majority country and does not like the idea of a terrorist army on its doorstep.

Popular in the Community