TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday announced the firing of Iran’s foreign minister as the longtime diplomat was abroad on assignment, pro-government news agencies reported.
Manouchehr Mottaki, an Anglophonic career diplomat and relative moderate serving as foreign minister since 2005, has long bristled against Ahmadinejad’s abrasive style. He will be replaced by Ali Akbar Salehi, an American-educated former diplomat who has been serving as chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization as well as a vice president in Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet, state television reported.
Officials disclosed no reason for the ouster of Mottaki, who was traveling in Senegal at the time, and the Foreign Ministry’s website did not announce his replacement. It was unclear whether Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ultimate arbiter of Iran’s foreign and national security policies, signed off on the dismissal. But Michel Potocki, author of a book on Iran’s constitution, said: “I very much doubt that Mottaki could have been dismissed without the leader’s approval.”
Iran is confronting the United States and other major powers over its nuclear ambitions, the subject of international talks in Istanbul next month. Mottaki’s removal set off a flurry of speculation about what it means.
One Iranian website said the manner of his dismissal would only benefit Iran’s foreign rivals. Ghodratollah Alikhani, a reformist member of parliament, said firing Mottaki while he was abroad was the “worst manner” of conduct, according to the website Fararu.
Iran watchers were generally perplexed at what the dismissal means for those seeking to curb the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
“We trust that the talks that have just begun in Geneva will continue and that different political lineups will not lead to an interruption or a hesitation at those talks,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Brussels, according to Deutsche Presse Agentur, the German press agency. Germany will take part in the talks.
Some said the replacement meant little. “Mottaki was a kind of gray-colored civil servant,” said Francois Nicoullaud, a retired diplomat who served as France’s ambassador to Tehran from 2001 to 2005. “I doubt that his absence will be noticed.”
Others speculated that the rising importance of the nuclear issue made Salehi a better choice at the helm of the Foreign Ministry and Mottaki irrelevant. “As the nuclear issue is tied to foreign policy and overshadowing everything else in foreign affairs, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi is becoming a superstar,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a journalist and political analyst in Tehran.