- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2013

The United States and its Western allies see a chance for a breakthrough on containing Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program with Hasan Rowhani, who won Iran’s presidential election last week.

Mr. Rowhani on Monday said a plan drawn up by Iranian officials and French President Jacques Chirac eight years ago could be a possible solution.

“In 2005, we came to a final agreement in talks with Mr. Jacques Chirac on how to build international confidence in Iran’s enrichment activities, and this agreement could be the final solution,” Mr. Rowhani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in talks with the European Union at the time, said in a news conference in Tehran, referring to talks with France, Germany and Britain.

“The Germans acquiesced in the agreement, but Britain, under the U.S. pressure, refrained from cooperation, and the job was left unfinished,” Mr. Rowhani said Monday in remarks reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Since Mr. Rowhani’s election Saturday, the United States and France have expressed an interest in addressing the nuclear issue.

Mr. Rowhani’s election was a “potentially hopeful sign,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Rowhani said Iran will not suspend its uranium enrichment efforts, but he promised greater transparency on the programs and confidence-building measures with the rest of the world.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on his country’s nuclear policy.

“There is no quick fix to the current issues with Iran, even with a new president,” said Jane Harman, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former member of Congress, said in a conference call Monday. “We have seen this movie before in Iran.”

Mr. Rowhani picked up more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

The United States has led a Western effort that has included sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

A combination of Mr. Rowhani’s first-round election victory and the dire economic conditions created by Western sanctions could give the new president greater influence on nuclear policy, at least initially.

“Mr. Rowhani is going to have more of a say … and in a way the sanctions can be used as a leverage by Mr. Rowhani, who seems to me definitely to want to reach a deal with the West,” said Meir Javedanfar, who teaches contemporary Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel.

“Mr. Rowhani can say, ‘Well, either I have a mandate to reach a deal or you have the sanctions.’ I think this time there is room to be optimistic,” he said on the Wilson Center conference call with reporters.

Mr. Rowhani has a window of up to a year to use the momentum from his electoral victory to produce a new discourse on Iran’s nuclear policy, analysts say.

“Khamenei traditionally withdraws a little from some of the strategic questions and allows the new president to play a bigger role,” said Bijan Khajehpour of Atieh International, the Vienna, Austria-based arm of a group of strategic consulting firms based in Tehran.

Mr. Rowhani will be counting on some goodwill gestures, including sanctions relief, Mr. Khajehpour said.

“If that doesn’t happen, Khamenei will come back and say, ‘Well I told you that your discourse is not going to work, lets go back to the old line.’”

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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