Iran’s new nuclear foreign minister

This is interesting – Ahmedinejad has dismissed Manouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister and appointed Ali Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear program, as his temporary replacement. Three things about this: firstly, it’s possibly linked to an ongoing battle of wills between Ahmedinejad and the Iranian parliament led by Speaker Ali Larijani; things have got so bad that Larijiani recently sent around a letter criticising the president as violating the constitution. Mottaki is an ally of Larijani’s and it’s possible that his dismissal represents the latest phase in the tussle for power in Iran. Secondly, although the move is a surprise, Mottaki has been sidelined for a while in favour of Esfandiar Mashaei, Ahmedinejad’s quirky chief of staff who is given to making pro-Israel statements and generally pissing off the clerics. The president has given Mashaei a lot of foreign policy power as his special envoy, whilst effectively circumventing Mottaki’s foreign ministry on major decisions. Lastly, as Julian Borger points out, the move has implications for the nuclear issue – although Salehi is just a temporary minister, the appointment of one of Iran’s top nuclear officials to the foreign ministry perhaps gives some indication of where Ahmedinejad’s priorities lie:

‘It says something about Iran and its priorities for a nuclear physicist to get the top foreign policy job, even if it is temporary for now. The preservation of the nuclear programme has become the central organising principle of Iran’s foreign policy.

On the other hand, Salehi is one of the few people in the shrinking circle of Iran’s policy elite who has significant experience of life abroad. He studied at the American University in Beirut and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Western diplomats generally prefer dealing with him rather than the chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili (an expert on political thought in the Koran), because he speaks much better English and is less inclined to rant.’

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