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Will Iran's Position Toughen With New Nuclear Negotiators?

Iranian observers appear to have generally perceived the latest reshuffling of the top echelon at Iran's foreign ministry as a move that reflects a change toward tougher positions in the nuclear negotiations with the West.

Ali Bagheri Kani, who replaced Iran's chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi on Tuesday, started his first day as Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs by taking a taxi to work and making this known to the public in a populist act.

Meanwhile, a smiling Araghchi told reporters in Tehran that he will continue to serve his country at the foreign ministry, where he worked for three decades as a career diplomat, or he might take up another post elsewhere. To further emphasize that he was not annoyed by his demotion to an adviser, Araghchi said that he would try to be an honest adviser to the new minister.

Among many social media posts about Bagheri Kani in his new role, was a post by Iranian journalist Reza Vosughi, who charged that sometime between the summer of 2010 and Autumn 2011, when frequent prisoner swaps took place between Tehran and Washington, Bagheri Kani had ditched a message from the Senator John Kerry to Iranian officials. According to Vosughi, the letter entitled "Building confidence for a new Dialogue," could have led to a breakthrough in the ties between Tehran and Washington had it been delivered to then Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Iran analyst Mohammad Rahbar told Iran International TV on Wednesday that Bagheri Kani’s background as someone who has studied economics does not fit his new job. Meanwhile, Rahbar reminded that Bagheri Kani does not speak English, which puts him at a disadvantage as a chief negotiator if he gets the portfolio. However, he agreed that assigning Bagheri to the post could lead to a toughening in Iran negotiating posture.

The analyst also noted that there are serious differences between Bagheri and his boss Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian but did not elaborate. He also added that it is not clear if the nuclear dossier would continue to remain within the jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry, or it will be handed over to the Supreme Council of National Security.

Sources familiar with the internal dynamics of the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran, including foreign policy journalist Samneh Mousavi were pretty certain as of September 13 that the Foreign Ministry will remain in charge of the nuclear case.

Although the ministry may remain in charge of the nuclear dossier, there is no certainty about who is going to lead the negotiations, the foreign minister, or his deputy Bagheri Kani.

Some analysts in Iran see the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on September 12 regarding its surveillance cameras as a sign that Tehrna’s position will not get tougher.

The political editor of Etemad daily in Tehran pointed out that Iran's nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami said on Wednesday, "We seek to ensure that there is no ambiguity for the IAEA regarding Iran's nuclear program," and Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's chief diplomat at the UN office in Vienna, has said: "Some analysts say that Iran's new government is going to have a tougher stance in the negotiations. I should say that the previous team also had a hardliner approach. They did their best to serve Iran's interest and I believe the new government will also continue to do so."

Ulyanov continued: "During the past two years, the United States created many problems for Iran. Tehran was punished for fulfilling its commitments under the JCPOA. Iran has every right to choose when it is ready for direct negotiations."

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