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Iran contemplating nuclear compromise in return for US-backed regional role: sources - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry after a statement early on November 24, 2013 in Geneva. (AFP PHOTO/FABRICE COFFRINI)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry after a statement early on November 24, 2013 in Geneva. (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—As the November 24 deadline for nuclear negotiations approaches, the revelation that US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been cautiously welcomed in the highest political circles in Tehran, an Iranian official informed Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Iranian official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “The paradigm of Iran’s nuclear program is shifting towards strategic necessities for both Iran and the US in the face of current regional crises.”

After nearly two years of indirect and direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, both sides are now fighting to win credibility that they have done their utmost to reach an agreement.

Pre-deadline nuclear talks in Muscat, where the first official encounters between Iranian and US diplomats took place after several decades of a no-negotiations policy, has added momentum to the current negotiations with both sides expected to offer compromises.

Ali Khoram, an adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Iran and the US have come to terms that despite more than three decades of mistrust, it is now in their national interest to constructively negotiate and reach an agreement.”

“Both sides seem to have recognized each other’s concerns and are ready for maximum flexibility,” Khoram added.

For Tehran, Obama’s steadfastness in pushing for negotiations despite immense pressure opposing this from US Republicans and Tel Aviv is seen as an opportunity that must not be squandered.

Referring to the fourth letter that President Obama has written to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Khoram said: “These diplomatic correspondences have had a positive impact on Iran’s top leadership and are essential in changing attitudes to reach an agreement, although the [latest] letter is solely concerned with mutual interests in combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS].”

Political observers in Tehran believe that Obama’s letter is another sign of potential broader Iranian-US cooperation in the aftermath of a nuclear agreement, particularly given the turmoil in the region. Iran’s leadership is also wary of the detrimental effect of long-term sanctions as seen in the fate of Libya and Iraq and is therefore seeking to build the required level of trust with the US to secure stable interactions on the regional and international stage.

“The idea that the United States of America remains forever as the ‘Great Satan’ is changing in Iran as there are signs of slight but noticeable change in US policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Iraq and Syria. All this makes it possible for Iran to enter into cooperation with the US,” Khoram told Asharq Al-Awsat.

While Hamidreza Asefi, a former Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesman during Ahmadinejad’s government, said he believes that Oman is a suitable host for direct US-Iran talks given the strong historical relations between Oman and Iran and Muscat’s previous track record of mediation.

Asefi however said that Muscat would not be able to play a “significant role” in convincing either side to offer further compromises in comments to Iran’s ISNA news agency. Despite this, Oman can play an essential role in boosting the confidence of both Iranian and US top leadership given its position as a friendly state to both Tehran and Washington.

It is still not known whether Omani officials will be actively present during the upcoming negotiations, but an Iranian source rejected Oman’s mediation role saying that the friendly Sultanate of Oman is merely hosting the negotiations likening this to negotiations held in Kazakhstan in 2012 and 2013.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to meet in Muscat on Nov 9 & 10 to discuss the final framework for the last nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations set to be held in Vienna on November 24.