New foreign minister signals potential for Iran to improve relations with the West

Appointment is viewed as a key opportunity to build bridges with Obama administration

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a photograph of the new Iranian foreign minister with a former senior American diplomat may signal a new direction for Iran’s fraught relations with the West over its nuclear programme.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, a former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, was confirmed in his post as foreign minister earlier this month. On Monday, he was pictured looking relaxed and smiling at a meeting with Jeffrey Feltman, a UN undersecretary-general. Mr Feltman is also the former US assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs who was in charge of US Iran policy from 2009 to 2012. Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 hostage-taking in Iran.

The election of Hassan Rouhani, a pro-reform pragmatist, as Iranian president in June, has raised hopes in the West that the Iranian leadership may be prepared to make concessions in order to obtain relief from sanctions. But it remains to be seen whether the changes will be more style than substance.

One Tehran-based academic who knows Mr Zarif personally, Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, told the New York Times that “our former foreign policy obviously did not yield any results and was clearly doomed.” Mr Hermidas-Bavand described Mr Zarif as “the new face of a new policy”, and said that Iran needed to “soften our stances in order to find a solution to the nuclear problem and reduce the sanctions.”

Mr Zarif, 53,  is a US-educated career diplomat. Although Iran has a mine of savvy and experienced diplomats, many were arbitrarily pulled back to Tehran by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr Zarif had been sidelined in recent years, spending his time teaching at the Iranian Diplomatic Training Centre. He was also part of the negotiating team led by Mr Rouhani who reached a deal with the UK, France and Germany in 2003, providing technological and economic incentives in return for freezing sensitive nuclear activities. That agreement collapsed two years later.

Since that time, Iran has continued to insist on its right to enrich uranium and has built up a stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 per cent – a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb – despite the pressure from the increased sanctions. Mr Zarif was also part of the team which drafted an offer of a 2003 “grand bargain”, encompassing all aspects of US-Iranian relations, which was spurned by George W Bush.

Having spent many years in America, and speaking fluent English, Mr Zarif stands for the resumption of relations with Washington. In conjunction with Mr Zarif’s appointment, Tehran today named a disarmament expert as its envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog. Reza Najafi  will be its next ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

Hardliners in the US Congress – and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – remain sceptical about a fundamental shift in Iranian policy. But the Obama administration would be keen to engage in bilateral talks with Tehran, according to President Obama’s former chief adviser on weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore. 

The appointment of Mr Zarif, who has been accused of being “pro-West”, could be the best chance in years for an end to the showdown over Iran’s nuclear programme – if the Iranian leadership and the Obama administration can overcome decades of mistrust.

Tehran mulls suing America over 1953 coup

Iran’s parliament has approved fast-tracking a debate on a Bill that seeks to sue the US for its involvement in the 1953 coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected prime minister.

MPs will begin deliberations tomorrow over how to launch a formal complaint accusing the US government of intervening in Iran’s internal affairs and inflicting damages on the Iranian state.

Newly declassified documents have revealed more details of how the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh 60 years ago in a coup that restored the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.


peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam