Tehran

Hassan Rohani ( ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian voters rejected the hardline candidates in last weekend’s presidential election in favour of Hassan Rohani, a 65-year-old reformist-backed cleric.

Known as the “diplomat sheikh”, he is a former nuclear negotiator and convinced the regime to suspend uranium enrichment between 2003-2005. He has also served in Iran’s parliament and the security council.

Rohani “believes in the same pragmatic policies as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who has been in alliance with reformist forces in recent years”, wrote Najmeh Bozorgmeh, the FT’s Tehran correspondent. “Mr Rafsanjani’s backing for his campaign, and that of reformist leaders, was crucial to his victory.”

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Daniel Dombey

Gold bars are seen at the Czech Central Bank on September 05, 2011 in Prague (MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

The golden stuff (AFP/Getty)

It must rank as one of the most thankless jobs in diplomacy. Just how do you draw up incentives for Iran to rein in its nuclear programme?

Talks have lumbered on, in one incarnation or another, for a decade now. Efforts to win over Tehran have been encumbered by mutual suspicion, political sensitivities (there is always the charge of appeasement) and sheer force of law.

Many of the sanctions the Islamic Republic most objects to are already on the statute book, whether as UN Resolutions, EU agreements or US law. No wonder it is difficult to come up with a compelling offer; few countries can change their laws by fiat.

On Monday, Tehran attacked one of the latest ideas seemingly floated by the world’s major powers – the notion the US could roll back recently imposed sanctions on gold sales to Iran.

The idea may have been designed to help Western allies – notably Turkey –as much as to alleviate Iran’s economic isolation. Last year Ankara became the world’s leading gold exporter to Iran, whether directly or through entrepôts such as the UAE. Demand from the Islamic Republic helped Turkey’s overall exports of the metal reach levels of $1.5bn-$2bn some months.

The trade has various explanations – chief of which is that bank transactions with Iran have become ever more problematic, particularly in the wake of measures affecting Swift, a group that facilitates electronic funds transfers. Against this backdrop, Tehran started taking payment for its oil and gas exports to Ankara in Turkish Lira – instead of via bank transfer – and using the money to buy gold it then ships home. Read more

US Attorney General Eric Holder (R), Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (C) and FBI director Robert Mueller (L) announce a plot was foiled involving men allegedly linked to the Iranian government to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US. Photo credit: Getty Images

By David Gardner, international affairs editor

The US accusations that Iran is behind a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US – possibly by blowing up a Washington restaurant he frequents – are, frankly, weird.

There is presumably some substance to it; it is the US attorney general and head of the FBI announcing the charges, and the Obama administration is clearly taking the plot very seriously.

But there are obvious objections. Why would Iran so up the ante in its three decades-long cold war with the US, by carrying out an outrage on American soil? While what we are accustomed to thinking of as the Tehran theocracy is no monolith, and a rogue operation is possible, what urgent motive could there be to strike the US and the Saudis now? Read more