Iranian President-Elect Hassan Rouhani, while running for Iran’s presidency, campaigned on pursuing a less antagonistic approach in the nuclear negotiations. After assuming his constitutional responsibilities, his main priority will be fixing the Iranian economy. Of course, he is well aware of the effects of the West’s sanctions, and previously led Iran’s nuclear negotiations from 2003 to 2005.
While the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, is ultimately responsible for the foreign policy of Iran, Rouhani will play an important foreign policy role as he is responsible for nominating individuals to fill important government positions. Mr. Rouhani’s nominations for these positions, including Iran’s next nuclear negotiator, may signal a possible change in Iran’s stance in negotiations over its nuclear program with the West, provided the Iranian parliament confirms the nominees.
Rouhani has indicated that he will nominate Mohammad Forouzandeh to take over as leader of the Supreme National Security Council—a position which doubles doubles as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. Mr. Forouzadeh has a unique combination of backgrounds; he currently runs one of Iran’s largest state run charities and corporations, the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled. He also possesses a background in security as he was the Chief of Staff for the Revolutionary Guards and a former Minister of Defense in the late 1980s. He will likely have a good feel for which of the West’s sanctions he must strive to ease before Iran begins to experience unrest among its poor.
Mr. Forouzadeh would replace Iran’s current head of the Security Council, Saeed Jalili. Since 2007, Mr. Jalili has been Iran’s primary nuclear negotiator. Considered by some to be a hardline ideologue of the Islamic Revolution, his position at the P5+1 negotiations has been one of no major concessions.
Yet there are signs that with this nomination, some changes may be coming. As a result of international sanctions, Supreme Leader Khamenei appears to be becoming more flexible towards less hardline positions in nuclear negotiations. This was reflected in Mr. Jalili’s softened stance during the 2012 negotiations in Istanbul. Thus, there is some reason to believe the Supreme Leader will also endorse Forouzadeh.
These internal changes may be signaling a change in Iranian politics. However, whether these changes mean real movement at the negotiating table remains to be seen.