The great powers are again resuming diplomatic efforts to settle the Iran nuclear issue. Expectations are high, as Iran is now presumed to be ruled by pragmatists who seek to end its isolation. Although much of the recent international focus has been on President Hassan Rouhani and his indefatigable foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the critical decisions will be made by Iran's Supreme National Security Council. The composition of that body and its new leadership say much more than Rouhani's proclamations do about the direction of Iran's foreign policy.
The council increasingly is populated by a cohort of hard-liners who have spent much of their career in the military and security services. The head of the council is Ali Shamkhani, a hardened member of the Revolutionary Guards and former minister of defense who has played a critical role in all of Iran's important national security decisions since the inception of the theocracy. Shamkhani's deputy is a shadowy Revolutionary Guards officer, Ali Husseini-Tash, who for decades has been involved in Iran's nuclear deliberations.
This new cast of characters was critical of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his unwise provocations and rhetorical excess. They sense that as Iran increases its power, it behooves Tehran to present itself as a more reasonable actor, imposing limits on expressions of its influence and acceding to certain global norms. For instance, Iran has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and has declared its readiness to deal constructively with the nuclear issue.