|Rafsanjani says final Iran deal could come within a year||
TEHRAN – Iran’s Expediency Council Chairman, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has raised hopes of a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers within a year.
In an interview with the Financial Times in Tehran published on Monday, Mr. Rafsanjani, 79, declared that Sunday’s interim deal was the hardest step because it meant overcoming decades of diplomatic estrangement with the U.S. going back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“It was breaking the ice, the second stage will be more routine,” said the former two-term Iranian president, sitting serenely in his book-lined office.
Many analysts in Tehran and Washington warn that the next phase of negotiations will be very difficult.
But Mr. Rafsanjani was determinedly optimistic. “Part of it (the breakthrough) was because talking to the U.S. was a taboo. That taboo could not be easily broken and nuclear talks could not move ahead without the United States.”
He said Iran had no interest in developing nuclear weapons and dismissed Israeli threats of a military strike to curb its nuclear program. “Israel is so small; no small fish can eat big fish.”
Mr. Rafsanjani is leader of the so-called conservative pragmatists who have long argued against Iran’s international isolation, and were alarmed by the confrontational policies of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the interview, the top cleric referred to the damage to the economy wrought by sanctions and the populist policies adopted by Mr. Ahmadinejad.
He expressed hope of a turnround in the economy in the next two years, especially if foreign investors come in and support sectors such as aviation, the oil and gas sectors, petrochemicals, shipping and railroads.
Despite being barred from running in the June presidential election, Mr. Rafsanjani struck an alliance with reformers that helped to catapult his ally Hassan Rouhani to the presidency.
But the more rational approach of Mr. Rafsanjani, who has now seen many of his fellow “Rafsanjani-ites” appointed to Mr. Rouhani’s administration, was vindicated. “The people recognized the way the country was run would not benefit them.”
He made clear that Iran has no intention of abandoning its nuclear program, but rather intended to bring it in line with the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty that allows for the peaceful development of nuclear power.
This mirrors the view of the Iranian government, which would like to preserve its low-level uranium enrichment program while providing sufficient assurances, through inspections and other forms of compliance, that its nuclear program is only meant for peaceful purposes.
“The limitations set by international laws are acceptable to us. The Non-Proliferation Treaty is acceptable to us. Anything more than that would be considered imposed on us.”
Mr. Rafsanjani and his allies have also been worried about growing tensions with Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Rafsanjani is one of the few Iranian political figures who has enjoyed good relations with Saudi leaders. In the interview, he said he was ready to travel to Riyadh and had been invited by King Abdullah to perform last month’s hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage. His intention would be “to reassure them (the Saudis) that friendship with Iran benefits the region and both countries.”
But he hinted that Iran’s leaders first needed to agree on policies of de-escalation. A future trip needed preparation and a decision within Iran on “how we are going to deal with (Saudi Arabia) in a win-win situation.”
In addition, Mr. Rafsanjani acknowledged that Iran “can play a better role” in Syria than it is doing now, but said the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would ultimately be decided by Syrians.
“If the Syrian people accept it, it seems to be no problem (for Assad to step down)...,” he said. “We have no right to interfere.”
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