No threats. No bluster. No blame.
"I won't engage in blame games or spin," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Sunday. "Not my style. What I will engage in is a sincere effort to reach an agreement."
With international negotiations over Iran's nuclear program a week from their deadline to produce an agreement, U.S. officials have been taking an ever-tougher public line, trying to build pressure with complaints about Iranian demands that they warn could cause the talks to break down.
But Zarif, Iran's chief negotiator at the seven-country negotiations here, isn't replying in kind. On the contrary.
As the negotiations have heated up, Iran's Western-trained emissary has been turning on the charm, with smiles and assurances that Iran is willing to cooperate with world powers if given a fair chance to develop its nuclear technology.
Western officials regard Zarif's approach as a kind of stylistic jujitsu intended to make Iran appear non-threatening and Western countries look like bullies.
"It's perfectly attuned to this world audience Iran is trying to convince that the talk of a threatening nuclear program is way overblown," said a Western official close to the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Zarif was the center of the attention Sunday as he met in Vienna with foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany, and then privately with Secretary of State John F. Kerry. The two men didn't comment after the two-hour meeting, which Kerry had said was aimed at finding out whether Iran would live up to its promises to make necessary compromises.
Zarif has been insisting that no one is more eager than Iran to do a deal.
Two weeks ago, as this sixth round of talks began, Zarif released a slick video showing him strolling around a serene Persian courtyard promising that Iran was fully committed to a diplomatic resolution.
"In the next three weeks, we have a unique opportunity to make history," he said in the video, which was released in multiple languages.
In an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Zarif said Iran was willing to go to any lengths to cooperate with world powers "to ensure that nobody is concerned about Tehran's nuclear program."
There is no value in forcing Iran to dismantle its centrifuges and other equipment because given that it already has the know-how, it could rebuild the equipment at any time, he said.
Zarif contended that Iran needs only an industrial-scale program because its contract with Russia for enriched uranium to fuel power generators runs out in seven years. Western officials dispute this, arguing that Iran could easily obtain contracts for nuclear fuel for power generation, and that it has no need to expand its uranium enrichment output nearly twentyfold, as it is asserting.
Zarif won't be able to persuade the six world powers across the negotiating table to give up all concern about Iran's nuclear program. All of them, including Russia and China, would prefer that Tehran not obtain the bomb.
However, the countries have varying views on how strict they believe the curbs should be on Iran's nuclear program. If Zarif can make U.S. demands look excessive, he may be able to persuade the group to allow more lenient terms, or put the blame on Washington if the talks break down.
If the failure is laid at the door of the Obama administration, many countries in Europe and Asia may be eager to throw off the international sanctions on Iran and resume oil purchases and other trade.
"If it's the United States that seems intransigent, Iran can make the case that it deserves sanctions relief," said Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist at Rand Corp.
Other Iranian officials aren't making the same effort. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has continued to thunder condemnation of the West. But having Khamenei take the tough line while Zarif speaks softly may move Iran toward its diplomatic goals.
Just as Khamenei has accused the United States and Israel of playing "good cop, bad cop," "you could say that Khamenei and Zarif have the same roles," Nader said. "It's skillful diplomacy."
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