New Team to Head Nuclear Talks

September 23, 2013

            President Hassan Rouhani has appointed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to lead nuclear talks with two other senior diplomats, according to Iranian news agencies. As Iran’s U.N. ambassador between 2002 and 2007, Zarif gained a reputation among his European and U.S. counterparts for being less ideological and more pragmatic than other Iranian diplomats. The other two envoys are Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, and Majid Takht Ravanchi, deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs.
            In early September, Zarif said that members of previous negotiating teams would also be asked to join the new team. He said the team’s goals would be “safeguarding the achievements of Iranian nuclear scientists, protecting the people’s rights in the nuclear field, and removing the international community’s concerns,” according to Fars News Agency.
            Four other members will join the team, including a representative from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and one from the Supreme National Security Council. In the past, the national security adviser led talks with the world’s six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Zarif’s predecessor was Saeed Jalili, an ally of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was widely seen as dogmatic and undiplomatic by his interlocutors.
            The following are profiles of the three diplomats named to lead the new negotiating team.

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Mohammad Javad Zarif
      Born in 1960, Zarif was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He is widely regarded as one of Iran’s most savvy diplomats. Zarif served as deputy U.N. ambassador from 1989 to 1992 and then as deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs until 2002.
      Zarif has been involved in both formal and informal talks with the United States. In 2001, he was Iran’s emissary to U.N. talks on the future of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s ouster. U.S. envoy James Dobbins credited Zarif with preventing the collapse of the conference due to last-minute demands by the Northern Alliance to control the new government. As an ambassador, Zarif attempted to improve relations with the West, including the United States.
            Zarif speaks English with an American accent after receiving two degrees from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in international relations from the University of Denver.
 
Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and Int'l Affairs: Abbas Araghchi
      Born in 1962, Araghchi is the deputy minister for legal and international affairs. In 1990, Araghchi entered the foreign ministry and was quickly promoted to charge d’affairs of Tehran’s Organization of the Islamic Conference mission in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In the mid-1990s, Araghchi did graduate work on politics and government at the U.K. University of Kent at Canterbury.
            Araghchi then returned to Iran and held senior positions at the Institute for Political and International Studies, a foreign ministry think tank. Between 1999 and 2013, Araghchi held several senior and ambassador-level positions in the foreign ministry. He served as ambassador to Estonia, Finland and Japan. In May 2013, Araghchi was appointed foreign ministry spokesman. He reportedly speaks English.
           
Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs: 
Majid Takht Ravanchi
      Born in 1958, Ravanchi is deputy minister for European and American affairs. He earned two civil engineering degrees from the University of Kansas in the early 1980s, according to his official curriculum vitae. He then returned to Iran and entered the foreign ministry in 1986. Ravanchi reportedly earned a master’s degree from Fordham University while serving as counselor at Iran’s U.N. mission in New York.
      In 1992, Ravanchi was appointed deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, a position he held until 1998. He served as a special assistant to the foreign minister before his 2002 appointment as ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein. In 2009, he took a break from diplomatic work and served as deputy director of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Political Islam. He returned to the foreign ministry in 2013. Ravanchi reportedly speaks English, French and German.
 
Photo credits: Javad Zarif via Facebook, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs mfa.ir