Iran parliament endorses Rouhani's diplomatic gambit

Reuters

* Rouhani says sanctions should be lifted

* Says U.S. actions more important than words

* Iran hardliners fret Rouhani going too fast

By Marcus George and Jon Hemming

DUBAI, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Iran's parliament strongly endorsedPresident Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic bid to dispel mistrust atthe United Nations last week during a visit which ended with anhistoric phone call with President Barack Obama, Iranian mediasaid.

The backing from the assembly, controlled by politicalfactions deeply loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,is a further sign that Rouhani has the support of the Iranianestablishment, though there are some rumblings from hardliners.

Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran, has yet tocomment publicly on Rouhani's trip.

Rouhani briefed parliamentarians on his trip, includingdiscussions on Iran's nuclear dispute with the West and regionalrelations, the student news agency ISNA said.

A group of 230 parliamentarians, out of the total of 290,signed a statement expressing their support of Rouhani forpresenting the image of a "powerful and peace-seeking Iran whichseeks talks and interaction for the settlement of regional andinternational issues", Fars news agency said.

While Rouhani's visit to New York boosted hopes of adiplomatic breakthrough in talks to resolve the 10-year-olddispute over Iran's nuclear programme, Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu dismissed it on Tuesday as a ruse concoctedby a "wolf in sheep's clothing".

The United States, Israel and other countries accuse Iran ofusing its nuclear programme as a veil for efforts to try todevelop the capability to produce weapons. Iran says theprogramme is for peaceful energy purposes only.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Netanyahuand "the Zionist lobby" were trying to hinder negotiations.

"We will not let Netanyahu determine the future of ourtalks," Zarif wrote on his Facebook page. The next round ofnuclear talks between Iran and six world powers is to take placein Geneva on Oct. 15-16.

POSSIBLE RESOLUTIONS

Such is the mistrust between Iran and the West that a bigsticking point of negotiations over Tehran's disputed nuclearprogramme has been who should make the first move.

Iran has insisted the United States and the European Unionshould ease sanctions before it makes any concessions overenriching uranium, while Western powers have argued the reverse.

Western powers are however considering easing theirlong-standing demand that Iran suspend all enrichment as part ofa possible deal to resolve the dispute that Rouhani says hewants to reach within months, a senior EU diplomat said.

"I believe part of the game is that if the Iranians provethat whatever they are doing is peaceful, it will, as Iunderstand, be possible for them to conduct it," LithuanianForeign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Reuters.

Lithuania holds the rotating presidency of the EuropeanUnion until the end of this year, giving Linkevicius a closerinsight into many policy debates.

"It's conditional. It is not a done deal, but neverthelessit is a possibility to explore," he said. "Thanks to thisrapprochement. How it will look, we don't know."

But both Rouhani and Obama face domestic opposition torapprochement from those who fear their president may be toowilling to grant concessions before the other side takes anyconcrete steps.

U.S. Republicans argue that it is the sanctions that havebrought about Iran's greater apparent willingness to at leastdiscuss compromise over some aspects of its nuclear activitiesand so therefore now is not the time to ease pressure on Tehran.

But Rouhani said on Wednesday a growing internationalconsensus favoured lifting sanctions against Iran.

"During my visit to New York, many of the officials ofcountries made moves to have meetings with the Iraniandelegations and they were saying that sanctions are ineffectiveand some of them even said they were unjust," the student newsagency ISNA quoted Rouhani as telling a cabinet meeting.

"It appears that the international environment is such thatsanctions need to be put to one side," he said, but did not saywhich countries wanted the sanctions to be eased.

The strongest sanctions are those of the United States andthe European Union on Iran's oil, gas, banking and shippingsectors and neither Washington nor Brussels has shown any signof easing sanctions soon, at least not before Iran acts.

In Iran's view, Rouhani has taken a big step already bytalking directly to Obama and now it is the turn of the UnitedStates to show evidence of its own good will.

"In my view what American officials say is not important.What is important is that they have understood that sanctionsagainst Iran are useless," Mehr news agency quoted Rouhani assaying.

"The problems of eight years or a decade certainly can't besolved in eight or 10 days."

OPTIMISM AND SUSPICION

Separate talks between Iran and the U.N. atomic watchdog inVienna last week however appeared to make little real headway,though both sides described their discussions as "constructive".

One Western diplomat said he had the impression that Iranand the International Atomic Energy Agency were relatively"optimistic" after the meeting. Another envoy said thediscussions had been focused and the atmosphere positive.

The Iran-IAEA meeting was a "good harbinger of betterrelations", said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institutefor Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank. "There is anew mood of optimism in Vienna that finally there is a wayforward," he said.

But even as Iranian conservatives fall in line behindRouhani there were signs of unease within their ranks.

Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani praised Rouhani's addressto the U.N. General Assembly, ISNA said. But Larijani, achampion of the conservative establishment, made no specificmention of Rouhani's phone call with Obama.

The head of the powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Mondaythe call had been premature, a possible beginning of resistanceto the relative moderate Rouhani from Iranian hardliners.

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