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Iran replaces foreign minister

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki leaves the Turkish Foreign Ministry after talks with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, July 18, 2008. Mottaki was dismissed while he was visiting the African nation of Senegal. He had been Ahmadinejad's chief diplomat since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki leaves the Turkish Foreign Ministry after talks with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, July 18, 2008. Mottaki was dismissed while he was visiting the African nation of Senegal. He had been Ahmadinejad's chief diplomat since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici) (Burhan Ozbilici, Stf - AP)

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 13, 2010; 3:14 PM

TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Monday that the head of the country's nuclear agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, would replace Manouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister, Iranian state media reported.

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The change is likely to further strengthen Ahmadinejad's direct influence on foreign affairs, analysts said. It comes as Ahmadinejad increasingly is wresting power from Iran's parliament, which is supposed to wield considerable authority within the Islamic Republic's political system.

Salehi, an MIT graduate, is head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and has been ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for almost eight years. He is widely seen as an outsider in Iran's Foreign Ministry, but according to the announcement Monday he will now serve as acting foreign minister.

Mottaki was dismissed while he was visiting the African nation of Senegal. He had been Ahmadinejad's chief diplomat since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005.

Outside observers said Mottaki was not regarded as a member of the president's inner circle, however, and did not have much influence on diplomacy regarding Iran's nuclear program.

"They had different views, and Ahmadinejad wished to change him for a long time," said Amir Mohebbian, an analyst who agrees with most of the president's policies. "Anyway, it is Ahmadinejad's right to change his ministers."

Mottaki is widely seen as being close to former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, according to an account posted on the IRdiplomacy Web site, which is run by former Iranian diplomats. Larijani currently heads Iran's parliament.

"Ahmadinejad did not trust him as key minister," the influential site wrote of Mottaki, describing him as an outsider within the cabinet with ties to conservatives critical of the government's policies. "The president considered [him] as someone forced upon him."

Ahmadinejad has clashed with the Foreign Ministry before. In August, he appointed several "presidential envoys" to special regions, creating what the ministry complained was essentially a "parallel Foreign Ministry."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened, and the men were demoted to the rank of advisers.

In recent days, Ahmadinejad sent his own emissary - again circumventing the Foreign Ministry - to Jordan, to convey a personal invitation to King Abdullah II to visit Tehran. Hard-line critics of Ahmadinejad were likely to object to the invitation, in part because Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Iran's relations with Jordan have been cool since then.

Ahmadinejad, in a letter, thanked Mottaki for his years of service, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. He welcomed Salehi to the post of acting foreign minister and said he hoped God would help Salehi in the performance of his duties.

Members of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission reacted with shock to the announcement that Mottaki would no longer serve as foreign minister.

"I have no idea why this happened," commission spokesman Kazem Jalali said.

Iran participated in talks on its nuclear programs last week with the United States and other major powers, but the talks did not make substantive progress toward an agreement.

The replacement of Mottaki by Salehi could forebode changes in Iran's foreign policy, said the Ayandeh Web site, which is close to former intelligence officials. "Such a move could increase Iran's success in the [nuclear] negotiations," it said.


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