Powerful Iranian politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says he believes Tehran can reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with world powers within a year.
He also told the Financial Times in a rare interview he thought little of Israel's threats of a military strike to curb Iran's nuclear program.
"Israel is so small; no small fish can eat big fish," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who views the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions as a threat to the Jewish state's existence, has vowed Israel will take military action if it determines Iran is getting close to developing a military nuclear capability.
Rafsanjani, 79, told the Times Sunday's interim six-month deal -- giving Tehran economic-sanctions relief in exchange for reining in some activities the West suspects are aimed at making a nuclear weapon -- was the hardest step because it meant surmounting a diplomatic rift with Washington dating from the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"It was breaking the ice. The second stage will be more routine," he said, disputing analysts in Tehran and the West who warn the next phase of talks toward a comprehensive agreement will be considerably harder.
"Part of it [the difficulty in reaching Sunday's breakthrough] was because talking to the U.S. was a taboo," he told the newspaper.
"That taboo could not be easily broken and nuclear talks could not move ahead without the U.S.," Rafsanjani said in his book-lined office in Tehran's Niavaran Palace, which was the primary residence of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi before he was overthrown in the revolution Feb. 11, 1979. The shah died July 27, 1980, at age 60.
Rafsanjani, chairman of Iran's policymaking Expediency Discernment Council, is a former two-term president who lost a third term to hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.
A centrist and pragmatic conservative who has long argued against Iran's international isolation, he struck an alliance with reformers that helped to catapult Hassan Rouhani to the presidency in June.
He also played an important role in the choice of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran's supreme leader in 1989.
Rafsanjani expressed hope to the Times of an economic turnaround in Iran in the next two years, especially if foreign investors support Iran's aviation, oil and gas, petrochemical, shipping and railroad industries.
He also said Iran would not abandon its nuclear program but would bring it in line with the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which permits peaceful nuclear-power development.
"The limitations set by international laws are acceptable to us. The Non-Proliferation Treaty is acceptable to us. Anything more than that would be considered imposed on us," he said.
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