Skip to main content

Rouhani, Zarif on the clock to get nuclear deal

A divided P5+1 is both a boon and a challenge for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

TEHRAN — Deal or no deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has his counterparts in the nuclear negotiations right where he wants them. Despite his insistence that "we have to negotiate with all of the P5+1 countries," Iran's chief negotiator has rid Tehran of the burden of convincing individual world powers to come onboard a solution. Active diplomacy has shifted this weight to primarily Washington and London, which must now deal with divisions among the P5+1.

A unified West has, in the strategic sense, never been in Iran’s interest — unless it is all in agreement with Tehran on a deal. It was in opposition to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that held them — and other members of the P5+1 — together in recent years. That there are now cracks among these six countries should not come as a surprise.

In Tehran, this narrative of a shift in burden is gradually taking hold. On Nov. 9, the rapporteur of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, criticized Paris' behavior, underlining that "this illogical behavior should be confronted by the other members of the group [P] 5+1."

In other words — for Zarif — so far, so good.

However, there are dark clouds ahead. And Iran's foreign minister knows it.

After his very brief joint press conference on Nov. 10 with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Zarif moved on to a session exclusively with domestic media outlets. According to the Iranian daily Shargh, Zarif said in response to questions about France's role in the talks: "Conspiracy theories [are] not helpful. Differences of opinion are normal." He also emphasized this point earlier in the day, saying that "among [P5+1] powers members, there is a general discord of positions, which consume much time in negotiations. … They hold different views, and definitely, have different interests, which makes it necessary to come to an agreement."

Zarif has good reasons for preventing "conspiracy theories" from taking hold. His future hinges on his ability to portray the P5+1 as genuinely divided — partly due to his approach.
However, in Geneva, Zarif may inadvertently have given his opponents ammunition against himself.

Zarif particularly provided fertile ground for "conspiracy theories" in an interview with the outlet IR Diplomacy. He told the reporter, "When we convened the Paris negotiations on March 23, 2005, I remember that during the seven hours I was negotiating with the three countries, John Bolton — who was then the deputy secretary of state and in charge of disarmament in the cabinet — called the French party seven times to make sure that no agreement was reached."

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.