Iran’s nuclear negotiator replaced by hardliner

Iran’s outgoing nuclear negotiator has been replaced as deputy foreign minister for political affairs by an ultra-hardliner, potentially further complicating efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

The state of play: It’s not yet clear whether the new deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri, will play as central a role in nuclear negotiations as his predecessor, Abbas Araghchi. Araghchi was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator since 2013, played a key role in reaching the 2015 deal and comes from the more moderate camp.

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  • Bagheri is a leading critic of the 2015 deal and the recent negotiations in Vienna. He previously led nuclear diplomacy under the hardline government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

  • If he is picked to lead the nuclear negotiations, it would be roughly analogous to John Bolton running nuclear talks with Iran.

The big picture: President Ibrahim Raisi took office in August stating that he was open to resuming nuclear talks with the U.S., but that any understandings reached over the past several months in Vienna were now void.

  • Talks have been frozen since the new hardline government replaced the more moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani. It’s not yet clear whether future negotiations will be run out of the Foreign Ministry, as under Rouhani, or the national security Council.

  • Bagheri was Raisi’s representative at the Foreign Ministry during the transition and also Raisi’s representative to a government monitoring committee on the nuclear deal.

  • Bagheri is not a fluent English speaker, which complicated the nuclear talks during his previous stint in office.

What’s next: There is still no date for resuming indirect nuclear talks between Iran and the U.S. over returning to compliance with the 2015 agreement.

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