With his wire-rimmed glasses, graying beard and plain attire, Ali Larijani, left, could be mistaken for a professor. He might have settled for an academic career had he not joined Iran's revolution and become one of Iran's main foreign policy strategists. Since 2005, he has been secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran's chief negotiator in the dispute over the country's nuclear program. While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ensured that defiance and rhetoric have dominated Iran's foreign relations in the past two years, Larijani, who takes a more pragmatic, measured approach, is becoming the Iranian official to watch. Some Iranian insiders and Western experts believe the country's future is riding on whether Larijani can wrest control of foreign policy from Ahmadinejad and head off a confrontation with the U.S. In September Ahmadinejad publicly contradicted Larijani's suggestion that Iran might temporarily suspend its uranium-enrichment activities during the negotiating process, giving momentum to U.S. efforts to win new U.N. economic sanctions against Tehran. But Iranian insiders tell TIME that Larijani is working hard to get negotiations with the Europeans back on track and might put a temporary uranium-enrichment freeze back on the table.