Iran’s president has abruptly fired his foreign minister and given his job to the country’s nuclear chief in the latest sign of a power struggle over its atomic programme.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave no explanation for the change but the fired diplomat, Manouchehr Mottaki, is seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The president may be aiming to install a figure more personally loyal to himself as Tehran resumes critical talks with world powers over the nuclear programme that has brought four rounds of UN sanctions.
The nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, is one of Mr Ahmadinejad’s 12 vice presidents.
“This move shows not only the internal tensions but the primacy of the nuclear issue as Iran’s main foreign policy objective,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert on Iranian affairs at Strayer University in Virginia.
Just a week before the shake-up, Iran resumed negotiations with six world powers over its suspect nuclear programme after a long hiatus and another round is planned for early next year. Four sets of UN sanctions appear to be biting into the Iranian economy and Mr Ahmadinejad may be looking for a loyal foreign minister who will help him clinch a deal with the six powers to ease the punitive measures.
A fourth round of sanctions was imposed in June over Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a key part of its nuclear programme that is of international concern because it can be used both for making reactor fuel and atomic weapons.
The sanctions are making it more difficult for Iran to trade with the world, forcing prices up.
Some of the tensions between Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Mottaki have spilled out into public in the closely guarded nation.
In the past year Mr Mottaki opposed a decision by Mr Ahmadinejad to appoint his own special foreign envoys to key areas such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region.