Iran's incoming president appears set to appoint a top diplomat with deep experience in dealing with the United States, a move with possible ramifications in a relationship long defined by an entrenched dispute over the Middle Eastern nation's nuclear program, Reuters reported on Monday.
President-elect Hassan Rouhani will name Mohammad Javad Zarif as his foreign minister, a confidante said, verifying earlier state media claims. As an atomic envoy in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the English-fluent, doctoral graduate of the University of Denver played a key role in negotiating an ultimately unsuccessful "grand bargain" between Tehran and Washington. He is already an acquaintance of Vice President Joseph Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and a bipartisan assortment of U.S. defense establishment insiders.
Former Obama administration Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, though, warned that Zarif is "not someone who does favors for the United States."
"He fits the category of a sign or signal until you see Iran actually doing something," Ross said.
Former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft said Zarif is "reasonable," but the significance of his anticipated appointment would hinge on the amount of flexibility he is allowed.
Zarif would require approval from a legislature controlled by hard-liners, and Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei continues to wield ultimate say over Tehran's atomic policy. Iran insists its nuclear efforts are strictly peaceful, but Washington and other capitals fear they could support arms development.
"Regardless of whether your boss supports (the bill), it could not come at a worse time," Stephen Lassiter, senior legislative assistant to Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), wrote in a communication to legislative staffers.
Separately, satellite images indicate Iran has substantially expanded a facility previously tied to an incipient effort to refine uranium using laser technology, according to a Monday analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security. The enrichment process can generate civilian nuclear fuel as well as bomb material.