Iran's foreign ministry to lead nuclear talks with world powers

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani gestures to the media during a news conference in Tehran
Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani gestures to the media during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdost

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday the foreign ministry would take over future talks with world powers over Tehran's contested nuclear program, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Since 2007, negotiations have been conducted by Saeed Jalili, head of the country's Supreme National Security Council and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who was seen by Western diplomats as an uncompromising ideologue.

IRNA gave no further detail as to who will be the chief negotiator to replace Jalili, but the announcement appeared to suggest Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will either lead the talks himself or appoint another ministry official.

The move indicates Rouhani, a relative moderate elected in June to replace conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be trying to streamline the process and is looking to exert more influence, although Iran's most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, retains the final say on any proposed deals.

The last round of negotiations in April with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany again fell short of any breakthrough. But some believe more progress can be achieved under Rouhani, who has pledged a more conciliatory and transparent approach to foreign policy by the Islamic Republic.

The six world powers have demanded Tehran cease enrichment of uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent to reduce concerns that it could be used for nuclear weapons, allegations Tehran has repeatedly denied. But Rouhani himself has defended Iran's "right" to enrich uranium, a precondition that has help scuttle any progress in past talks.

(Reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich)