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Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Resigns

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The Associated Press
Saturday, October 20, 2007; 3:25 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's top nuclear negotiator resigned Saturday in a move seen as a victory for the hardline president that could push the country into an even more defiant position in its standoff with the West.

Ali Larijani was viewed as more moderate than President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and the two often clashed over how to negotiate with the world on the nuclear issue.

His resignation and replacement by the little known deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, Saeed Jalili, puts the nuclear portfolio firmly in the president's hands just days before a key meeting with European negotiators.

It was not clear whether Larijani left his post under pressure, but his departure was interpreted by many here as giving Ahmadinejad a free hand in dictating his views to the less experienced Jalili.

Government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham gave no specific reason for the resignation other than to say Larijani wanted to focus on "other political activities."

"Larijani had resigned repeatedly. Finally, the president accepted his resignation," Elham told reporters.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and have demanded it halt uranium enrichment, a key step in the production of atomic weapons. Oil-rich Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.

Iranian political analyst Jahanbakhsh Izadi said the intense rivalry between the president and Larijani, who answered directly to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was behind the resignation.

"Larijani had become frustrated with Ahmadinejad's rhetoric. The two didn't share identical views on how to deal with the outside world," he said.

Larijani believed a political solution to the standoff was possible and worked closely with European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. His efforts were often hindered by Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric, said Ismail Gerami Moghaddam, a reformist lawmaker.

"Larijani's talks with Solana were promising and could have led to a political settlement but Ahmadinejad and his group are seeking adventurism and didn't want talks to succeed," he said.

The move also suggests that the nation's ultimate arbiter, Khamenei, has tilted toward Ahmedinejad and away from his former protege Larijani.

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