Iran sent strong signals on Tuesday that its new foreign minister, an American-educated diplomat with a deep understanding of the United States, would assume the additional role of leading the Iranian delegation in talks with the major powers over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Such a change under the new president, Hassan Rouhani, would be a significant departure for Iran in the nuclear talks. Mr. Rouhani, a moderate cleric who won the presidency in June over his more conservative rivals, campaigned on a pledge to reduce tensions with the West over the nuclear issue, which has left Iran increasingly isolated and economically troubled because of punitive sanctions.
Mr. Rouhani's choice for foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was confirmed by Parliament last week. The signals that Mr. Zarif would lead the nuclear negotiations were conveyed on Tuesday at a regular weekly news conference in Tehran by the Foreign Ministry spokesman, which was broadcast by Iran's Press TV Web site.
"Over the past 10 to 12 years, the negotiator has been the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. This may change," said the spokesman, Abbas Araqchi. "Rouhani may decide to appoint somebody else. Maybe the foreign minister, or anyone else that he deems fit."
For the spokesman to even make such a speculative statement suggested that Mr. Rouhani had already decided that his foreign minister would be doing the negotiating henceforth and that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on the nuclear issue, had agreed, despite his own deep mistrust of the West.
The previous nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was a personal emissary of the ayatollah's and was among the conservative presidential candidates defeated by Mr. Rouhani in the June 14 election. Mr. Jalili made no progress in the talks with the so-called P-5-plus-1, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.
Mr. Zarif, 53, is widely considered the most important new face in Mr. Rouhani's cabinet because of his American background. He is known for having sought to improve relations with the West and the United States in particular, preferring to refer to it as a rival nation and not the enemy, the name commonly used by Iranian hard-line conservatives.
Educated in the United States, Mr. Zarif was Iran's ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He was sidelined and eventually replaced after the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who escalated Iran's nuclear activities, dismissed sanctions as American-led bullying and often inveighed against the West.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman's statement on Tuesday was the second time in five days that personnel changes under Mr. Rouhani have suggested that a major shake-up in strategy on the nuclear issue may be under way.
On Friday, Iranian state media announced that Fereydoon Abassi, a hard-line nuclear scientist who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt nearly three years ago that Iran blamed on Israeli agents, had been removed as the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, which in charge of operating nuclear facilities.
Mr. Abassi's replacement was the former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, who had been widely considered the most practical member of Mr. Ahmadinejad's cabinet. Mr. Abassi, by contrast, was regarded as uncompromising.
"You have to read the fig leaves from all these pronouncements -- they're talking about diplomacy," said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, a political-science professor who specializes in Iran at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
While Iranian leaders have made similar gestures in the past when they foresaw a serious threat from the long-stalled nuclear negotiations, Mr. Boroujerdi said, "I think in this case they're hoping some wise politicians here in the United States will put two and two together -- that these are all signs they want to reach an agreement."
It remains unclear when the nuclear talks will resume. But many Iran political experts have been saying they expect a much less bombastic tone in the talks under the Rouhani administration, even if Iran insists on its right to enrich uranium, one of the major obstacles to an agreement.
The P5-plus-1 countries have demanded that Iran comply with Security Council requests to halt its uranium enrichment, which Iran says is for peaceful intentions. Western nations suspect that Iran is working to achieve the capability to build nuclear weapons, an assertion the Iranians have repeatedly denied.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.