Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has "abruptly" fired Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and replaced him with Atomic Energy Agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi. Mottaki, who is known to have a rocky relationship with Ahmadinejad, had recently completed multilateral nuclear negotiations with UN and U.S. representatives. Salehi is the head of Iran's nuclear program. Here is what Iran experts say the top-level change-up signals about the country and its leadership.
- 'Nuclearization' of Iran's Foreign Policy Trita Parsi, found and head of the National Iranian American Council, tells Politico's Laura Rozen that "the fact that Salehi, a longtime hand in the nuclear program, replaces [Mottaki] may indicate the nuclearization of Iranian foreign policy. While Mottaki was never central to the nuclear program, the person replacing him and taking over the entire foreign policy machine is a person that for decades has been instrumental to the program."
- Ahmadinejad Consolidating Power With this move, Ahmadinejad "has signaled a possible hardening of the country's foreign policy and a strengthening of his own position," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Robert Tait writes. "It is not the first time that Ahmadinejad has asserted his strength over foreign policy against relatively pragmatic figures as he has sought to establish a more radical line. In 2007, he effectively fired the National Security Council secretary and chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and replaced him with a close ally, Said Jalili."
- In Tehran, Hardliners Defeat Moderates "The sacking of Mr. Mottaki seemed to represent a victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad," agrees The New York Times' William Yong. "Political insiders say that after the 2005 presidential election, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, forced the newly elected Ahmadinejad to accept Mr. Mottaki as foreign minister, even though Mr. Mottaki had backed Mr. Larijani's campaign. They say Mr. Khamenei has until now blocked the president's efforts to replace him."
- Mottaki Blamed for Iran's Very Bad Year Former high-ranking Iranian diplomat Mohammad Reza Heidari, currently living in exile, tells the Century Foundation that "Mottaki was blamed for failing to prevent the passage of the UN resolution condemning Iran's violation of human rights, as well as for "failing to lead Iran to obtaining a seat in the UN Women's Rights Panel" and being unable to "minimize the damage" on a story of Iran "sending illegal weapons to Nigeria. ... The final blow came when UNESCO did not see Iran fit for holding a conference on philosophy. This was embarrassing to the Islamic Republic. The president tied these so-called defeats together so, if necessary, he would be able to convince the Supreme Leader that Mottaki had to go."
- Won't Change Anything The Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi notes that while the move illuminates the Iranian leadership's thinking, the staff change itself will have little affect. "It is unlikely Iran's foreign policy, especially concerning its nuclear program and relations with the U.S., will change; those policies are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."