Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most influential political leaders, has raised hopes of a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers within a year.
In a rare interview in Tehran Mr Rafsanjani told the Financial Times that Sunday’s interim deal had been the hardest step because it meant overcoming decades of diplomatic estrangement with the US that goes back to Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
“It was breaking the ice. The second stage will be more routine,” said the former two-term Iranian president, sitting serenely in his book-lined office in an elegant Tehran palace that once belonged to the late Shah ousted in the revolution.
“Naturally six months is the time for the [interim] agreement. Six months after that will be enough for that work [on a comprehensive deal],” he said.
He spoke as oil prices fell after Iran reached the historic agreement with world powers to halt its uranium enrichment plans, lifting hopes for an easing of one of the greatest sources of geopolitical tension, and a boost in oil supplies.
Many analysts in Tehran and Washington warn that the next phase of talks will be difficult, partly because Israel continues to believe that Iran is covertly on course to develop a nuclear bomb and partly because of differing expectations in Tehran and western capitals about how much further ground Iran is prepared to give.
US president Barack Obama and David Cameron, UK prime minister, sought to reassure Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, called it a “historic mistake”.
Mr Rafsanjani was determinedly optimistic. “Part of it [the breakthrough] was because talking to the US was a taboo. That taboo could not be easily broken and nuclear talks could not move ahead without the US.” He said Iran had no interest in developing nuclear weapons and dismissed Israeli threats of a military strike to curb its nuclear plans. “Israel is so small; no small fish can eat big fish.”
Brent crude, the global marker, traded as low as $108.05 a barrel in response to the agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for the easing of sanctions.
But prices rebounded with Brent reaching $110 a barrel as analysts warned that Iranian exports were unlikely to jump in the short term because key limitations on sales – including a ban on exports to the EU – will remain in place until a comprehensive deal is reached.
US-led sanctions have cut Iranian exports from almost 2.5m barrels a day equivalent to just 1mb/d over recent years, while the prospect of an Israeli or US strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has added a further risk premium to the market.
Amrita Sen, head of the Energy Aspects consultancy in London, said: “A military stand-off over the nuclear programme is off the table for now, and Congress should step back from attempts to increase sanctions, both of which would have raised oil prices.”
In the oil market the focus is on a sentence in a copy of the interim deal posted on an Iranian website, that says the west will suspend sanctions on insurance and transport services. Fereidun Fesharaki, head of the FACTS Global Energy consultancy, said such a relaxation could lead to an increase of between 200,000 and 400,000 b/d in Iranian exports immediately.