- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

TEHRAN — In the space of a year, Abbas Araghchi went from the academic oasis of heading a Foreign Ministry-affiliated think tank in pastoral north Tehran to exchanging barbs with U.S. officials in a rare face-to-face meeting at the March 10 international con- ference in Baghdad.

“The presence of foreign forces cannot help the security of Iran in the long term,” Mr. Araghchi, now deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, said after the meeting, calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and blaming Iraq’s current state of affairs on American “intelligence failure.”

It was not diplomatic language, but suited to the Islamic republic’s historically uncompromising rhetoric. Speaking to The Washington Times after the conference, Mr. Araghchi called the meeting a “momentous one.”

Leading the Iranian delegation to the Baghdad conference was the culmination of a series of high-profile diplomatic assignments for Mr. Araghchi over the past year that marked way stations along his rise to international prominence.

He has recently concluded meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

Mr. Mottaki has come under growing criticism that under his watch, Iran is alienating Sunni Arab states. On several recent occasions, Iran’s National Security Council chief and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani performed sensitive diplomatic missions like arranging a summit in March between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Larijani is a regime insider who enjoys good access to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Though not a cleric, Mr. Araghchi comes from a religious family and is a “seyyed” (a descendant of the prophet Muhammad). It is said that his marriage ceremony was conducted by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself. Alongside his affable exterior, he possesses a Shi’ite-shaded nationalist streak.

“From Kabul to Baghdad and Beirut, Shi’ites across the region are taking power,” he said in an interview in the summer of 2005.

In interviews before assuming his current post, he also talked about the effect the collapse of the Soviet Union had in Central Asia, describing a strong trend in Iranian diplomatic thinking at the time to reclaim Azerbaijan as Iranian territory.

“He’s a genuine representative of the regime,” said a former Western diplomat in Tehran. “Soft-spoken, sharp mind, honest. Not necessarily a moderate, but someone who is able to critically evaluate the Islamic republic’s record.”

A career diplomat, Mr. Araghchi entered the Foreign Ministry in 1990. Having earned a Ph.D. in politics and government in 1995 from Britain’s University of Kent and a master of arts in political science from Iran’s Islamic Azad University, he started working in the international department and was soon promoted to the deputy directorship for regional organizations.

From 1990 to 1991, he was in Saudi Arabia, serving as charge d’affaires at the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jidda.

“In diplomatic life, the practitioners who have already developed deep insights into the various theories in the field and in diplomatic history have coped with the intricacies of diplomacy much more effectively,” said Mr. Araghchi. “As a career diplomat, I feel satisfied when I have somehow contributed to the better realization of our national interests.”

His appointment to the Foreign Ministry under Mr. Ahmadinejad was a pleasant surprise to many foreign diplomats in Tehran, who saw a recognizable and moderate face enter an administration largely peopled by unknown hard-liners.

Mr. Araghchi, 45, graduated from the School of International Relations in 1989, the same school that he would head 15 years later. He spent his early 20s, before going to the university, fighting as a volunteer in the front lines of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

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