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West can ‘do business’ with Rouhani, former counterpart Jack Straw tells Amanpour

October 16th, 2013
07:01 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Portraying Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a genuine pragmatist, Former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw expressed optimism to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that a nuclear deal with the West was possible.

Direct nuclear talks, ushered in by the election of Rouhani earlier this year, began Tuesday in Geneva.

Straw, as foreign secretary, worked closely on the nuclear file with Rouhani, when he was head of nuclear negotiations under President Mohammad Khatami.

“You could do business with him, and we were able to do business with him,” Straw told Amanpour. “I very profoundly believe that [this] is a new chance for proper negotiations.”

Sceptics in the West, and Israel, have welcomed President Rouhani’s words but said they need to see actions – a sentiment mirrored in Iran when talking about the West.

“President Rouhani is an Iranian and he represents Iran’s national interest, so people have got to factor that in, and it’s entirely right that he should do that,” Straw said.

During the last round of substantive negotiations, Straw told Amanpour, President Rouhani was “caught in a kind of crossfire of forces.”

Those forces, Straw added, “may now have been more settled within Iran, not least because the economic situation is much more serious as a consequence, partly, of the economic sanctions.”

Another contributor: The fact that President Rouhani has the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei to pursue direct negotiations, as Rouhani himself told Amanpour in an interview just weeks ago.

President Mohammed Khatami did not enjoy that backing.

“Yes, there are people – particularly in the United States – who don’t trust the Iranians,” Straw said. “But there are also plenty in Iran who regardless of their politics – for very, very good reasons – don’t trust the Americans and to a degree don’t trust the Brits either.”

“So there’s got to be a two-way street here,” he told Amanpour. “Moreover, Doctor Rouhani may be in a more powerful position than president Khatami was, but he’s got his own quite difficult backyard politically to handle. And one of the things I hope we don’t get caught by is the American Administration having to keep turning, looking over its shoulder at the pressure from Israel.”

Many in Israel and some in Iran, Straw said, would like to see Iran completely suspend nuclear enrichment.

But Iran is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, under which countries have a right to enrich uranium to non-weapons-grade levels, for civilian use.

If negotiations could “run into difficulty” it could be because of this issue, Straw said. Negotiators in Geneva, he added, should “take Doctor Rouhani at his word” that Iran is not looking to develop a nuclear weapon.

But, he told Amanpour, “I say this very much as a friend of Iran – there has been a consistent record, I’m afraid, of under disclosure or late disclosure of what Iran have been doing in terms of its nuclear activities.”

Therefore, rather than get stuck on civilian enrichment, “it seems to me that the much more fruitful avenue to pursue is how you build up confidence by more extensive and intrusive inspections of what the Iranians are actually doing.”

Indeed, he said, he has seen an “unconfirmed report” that Iran in the negotiations has offered to allow much more intrusive inspections over the next six months, as a confidence-building measure.

“It involves really bold steps by both sides, but the prize is huge,” Straw said of negotiations. “Iran, objectively, is a natural ally of the international community and the West if we could resolve this.”

“Not to turn Iran into a kind of cats’ paw of the West, but recognizing and respecting its strategic and regional importance – it would make relations with Afghanistan, relations with Iraq, and a potential solution to Syria conflict that much easier to secure.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iran • Latest Episode • United Kingdom
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Andreas Dittrich, Senior Business Consultant

    This sounds positive. It's an appropriate way to focus on the Uranium enrichment to weapon-level and establish according inspections in order to prevent that, thus making sure that Iran benefits from as well as adheres to international treaties it signed. I sincerely hope that the search for pragmatic and verifiable solutions have clear priority as against politics which are only distrustful.

    October 16, 2013 at 7:25 am | Reply
  2. Bas


    Hello Christiane. After listening to your appreciable interview related to Iran's novel availability I cannot avoid wondering whether it is urged by a new approach and namely by an actual good-will to be part of the international community or by the pressing need to escape the burden of the sanctions imposed by the West. If the answer were half-way and both the reasons prevailed, it would be already a major step forward. Instead, if the Iranian move were exclusively aimed to get an advantage, by playing the role of a Theocratic regime suddenly turned into an enlightened Government, the risk would be significant. In that case, dripping sanctions would mean to strengthen a disruptive force and upset even more a crippled international equilibrium.
    Brusque conversions always should arise some doubts and neither we should exclude them nor to accept them as unquestionable. We have to be careful if we think wrong to perpetuate the recent misjudging the Middle East's context. Those movements that did not want to topple dictatorship in name of a more advanced ruling but just to bring to power backward systems by restoring Theocratic medieval arrangements, should not be misinterpreted.
    Overall, the key of the topic just lies in the cultural development. No advance is actually stable without a cultural growth and only time may secure it Progress has to be earned over time and results from awarenesses achieved through failures, needs overcome step by step. and a sensibility handed down from one generation to another; hence. sudden enlightenments hardly ever prove to be true.
    To avoid bursting completely the bubbles of my optimistic friends, I could just say that "Hardly ever" is still different from "Never"

    October 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Reply
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