Rouhani proposes nuclear transparency, easing US-Iran tensions

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Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rouhani ushered in the post-Ahmadinejad era Monday with a sometimes extraordinary 90-minute press conference in which he stressed he would take a pragmatic and moderate approach to improve Iranian relations with the world and reduce tensions with the United States over Iran's nuclear program.

“The Iranian people…will be happy to build trust and repair relations with the United States,” if the US pledges to never interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs and to respect Iran’s rights, including for domestic enrichment, Rouhani told the packed press conference in Tehran.

“We don't want further tension” with the United States, Rouhani, 64, said. “Both nations need to think more about the future and try to sit down and find solutions to past issues and rectify things.”

“My government will defend the rights of the Iranian nation,” the multilingual cleric, who earned his PhD in Glasgow, said. “We want to see less tension, and if we see goodwill” from the United States, then “confidence -building measures can be made.”

Asked how Iran could get out from crippling economic sanctions, Rouhani said his government would offer greater transparency of Iran’s nuclear program and take steps to restore international trust to get sanctions rolled back. “Our nuclear program is transparent but we’re ready to take steps to make it more transparent,” he said.

Rouhani said, however, that the time has passed for Iran to agree to suspend lower level enrichment, which it did in 2004-2005 when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. “That era is behind us,” Rouhani said of the deal he negotiated a decade ago with three European powers to suspend Iran's 3.5% enrichment. “There are so many other ways to build international trust.”

Rouhani proposed that a deal he discussed in 2005 with then French President Jacques Chirac, which he said was rejected by the UK and the US, could be the model going forward.

Hossein Mousavian, who served as a member of the Rouhani negotiating team, said the Chirac idea that Rouhani referenced involved the highest level of transparency of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Iran having its rights under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognized.

“We agreed with Chirac that: first, the EU-3 would respect the legitimate rights of Iran for peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT, including enrichment,” Mousavian told Al-Monitor Monday. “Second, Iran would accept the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA's definition for objective guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program would remain peaceful and would not divert toward weaponization in the future.”

“It means that Iran would respect the maximum level of transparency that internationally exists,” Mousavian, a contributing writer to Al-Monitor, further explained. “In return, the P5+1 would not discriminate against Iran as a member of the NPT. It would respect Iran's rights under the NPT like other members.”

Mousavian, asked how Washington should try to realize the potential to advance a nuclear deal under the more moderate Rouhani presidency, recommended that US President Barack Obama write Rouhani, offer him congratulations, and reiterate US interest in direct talks.

“Confirm the willingness and intentions of the US for relations based on mutual respect and mutual interest, to depart from 30 years of hostility and tension,” Mousavian suggested. Reiterate Washington's “readiness for direct talks with no preconditions.”

“I think now is the time,” Mousavian said, adding that he too had been taken by surprise by Rouhani's victory.

A top advisor to President Obama said Sunday the White House sees Rouhani's election as a “potentially hopeful sign.”

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Syria’s top UK envoy defects: “No longer willing to represent this regime”


Syria’s top diplomat in the United Kingdom has defected and left his post at the Syrian embassy in London, the British foreign office said Monday. The defection of Syria’s UK Chargé d’Affaires, Khaled al-Ayoubi, is the fourth by a Syrian diplomat this month, and comes as talks are underway on a transition from Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“Mr. al-Ayoubi has told us that he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people, and is therefore unable to continue in his position,” a British foreign office spokesman said in a statement Monday.

His departure is “another blow to the Assad regime,”  that “illustrates the revulsion and despair the regime’s actions are provoking amongst Syrians from all walks of life,” the spokesman said.

The UK-based diplomat’s defection follows those of three other Syrian ambassadors this month, including Syria’s ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares and Syria’s ambassadors to the UAE and Cyprus, a married couple, last week.

Various Syrian opposition representatives have been involved in transition planning talks  taking place in Cairo, under the auspices of the Arab League.

The United States is meantime expanding its assistance to the Syrian opposition, including non-lethal support to the armed Syrian resistance.

Among the new measures, the U.S. Treasury Department last week authorized the Syrian Support Group to provide financial and logistical assistance to the Free Syrian Army, Al Monitor reported last week. The authorization, contained in a letter from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and signed July 23, came as the Free Syrian Army military command issued a “Proclamation of Principles” pledging support for multi-ethnic pluralism and democracy.

US officials have stressed the need for Syria’s opposition to demonstrate such ethnic inclusivity, in order to encourage more defections and to avoid a sectarian bloodbath.  “The future will include all Syrians of all backgrounds,” US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in a statement posted to the embassy’s website July 27.

The United States is also urging Syrian rebels and opposition groups to avoid seeking an Iraq-style disbanding of Syria’s army, the Washington Post reported.

However, Syria’s rebels don’t support one figure reportedly eyed as a potential Syrian unity figure who could hold the army together, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a close family friend of Assad who defected this month.

Tlas’s “road map is slowly taking shape,” Sabah’s Erdal Safak reported in a piece translated and published by Al Monitor Monday. “Never mind that a part of the opposition says, ‘There is no place for Baath officials or generals in the new era.’  Syria’s friends, definitely the US, see the Syrian army as the sole guarantor of integrity and stability of the country.”

(Members of a Syrian refugee family, who fled the violence in Syria, are seen at a garden in Port Said Square in Algiers July 30, 2012. More than 12,000 Syrians fleeing the violence in their home country have sought refuge in Algeria, a source close to the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi.)