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Can pragmatic Rowhani assure West on nuke deal?

The talks have been kept behind closed doors at unspecified locations

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

While the nuclear talks have been taking place between Iran and the P5+1 group in New York for almost five days, not many details have been provided to the media about the discussions.

The talks have been kept behind closed doors at unspecified locations at the U.N. or elsewhere, giving reporters a sense that the talks are at a highly important and sensitive stage.

In a very short briefing by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on Thursday after the emergency session on Iraq at the Security Council, rather than Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif taking the podium and addressing his counterparts, Araghchi said: “I can say that in general, a very good atmosphere rules the negotiations.”

At this most important time of the talks with the interim deal and the timeline to reaching a permanent agreement expires on Nov. 24, it seems that there is no time to lose or waste for Zarif and his team of negotiators.

Last year, during the time of the United Nations General Assembly, the world expected a historic meeting between President Hassan Rowhani first and President Barack Obama that would put behind the 35-year enmity between their countries.

Disappointed

While the two presidents didn’t meet in person, a fifteen-minute phone conversation made the atmosphere of the nuclear talks more positive and constructive – and put them in Iran’s favor.

A year has passed since then and the comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear talks hasn’t been reached yet. And with two months left until the expiry date of the interim deal, the relations between these two countries are a bit sour, even if we can’t call them ruined.

However, the talks would be ruined if Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei reaches the conclusion that the U.S. is not being sincere and honest at the discussions.

The supreme leader is quite disappointed that Iran didn’t get invited to the conference in France where the coalition formed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq was formed, and this makes the nuclear talks a little fragile.

For sure Khamenei’s sentiment has to be expressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said to the Security Council on Friday that Iran can participate in confronting ISIS.

“There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran,” John Kerry said.

Kerry’s remarks definitely pleased Tehran, especially upon Rowhani’s arrival to New York last week.

Rowhani is coming to back up his team of nuclear negotiators who prepared the path a week in advance of his arrival, and to meet with world leaders as an opportunity to gain more support ahead of the expiration of the interim deal.

As the former nuclear chief negotiator, Rowhani is quite aware of the importance of the time and the opportunity for reaching the comprehensive deal despite of all the disappointment that has risen between the two countries.

Possibly unreachable

After the General Assembly at the United Nations, there will only be a little over seven weeks remaining for Iran to reach a deal with the West. If there is not significant progress made, or if it seems like Iran and the P5+1 are still apart on the terms of the deal, it is clear for both sides that an agreement is off and unreachable by the deadline.

Rowhani’s trip to New York may boost the talks and inject energy and support, as Iran understands their importance and its unique negotiating opportunity ahead of Nov. 24.

Foreign Minister Zarif told PBS broadcasting network on Friday that Iran would accept Obama bypassing Congress to get sanctions lifted.

“If President Obama promises us to do something, we will accept and respect his promise,” Zarif told PBS.

As for whether the U.S. would hold out on the lifting of permanent sanctions against Iran, which requires congressional action, Zarif appeared amenable to Obama lifting less restrictive sanctions instead. Can the U.S. also be amenable with Iran over the number of centrifuges and its advanced nuclear industry?

The New York talks are a landmark and face-saving diplomatic way to demonstrate if pragmatic Rowhani can assure the West that Iran intends to move towards a responsible and mature foreign policy.

The article was first published in al-Hayat on Sept. 28, 2014.

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.