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Ahmadinejad abruptly sacks foreign minister in favor of nuclear chief

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replaced Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in a move that is likely to solidify Iran's united front toward the West.

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MPs on Monday were reported to have said the summary dismissal while Mottaki was out of the country went against protocol – in fact, such a change of foreign minister has not taken place since the early years of the Islamic Republic nearly three decades ago. They heard of the change only through news reports.

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“Mottaki failed to adjust himself to the president’s viewpoints and his foreign policy,” said the reformist website Mardomsalari, according to Reuters. The agency reported from a source in Tehran that Salehi had been Ahmadinejad’s first pick as foreign minister in 2005, but that Ayatollah Khamenei had “rejected Salehi.”

Mottaki's difficult tenure

Mottaki has presided over a tendentious period of Iranian diplomacy, during which Iran has been hit with four layers of UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program – which the US and several other Western countries believe is a mask for a weapons drive.

During Mottaki’s tenure, Iran has also deepened its global influence from Iraq and Lebanon to South American outposts like Venezuela and Bolivia. But that influence diminished to a degree after the controversial reelection of Ahmadinejad in June 2009, which sparked weeks of protest and a lethal crackdown.

“For more than two years conservative lawmakers … in Tehran have been urging Ahmadinejad to dismiss Mottaki because he has been unable to show himself as a convincing figure in the international arena,” said Naderi. Salehi is the “most successful candidate, because he has been successful in Iran’s nuclear program, he has delivered on most of the demands the government has asked [of him].”

Shake-up unlikely to alter strategy

Members of parliament had warned Ahmadinejad that further rounds of UN sanctions, which have been biting Iran’s already sluggish economy, would make Mottaki’s position untenable.

The shake-up is not likely to alter Iran’s strategy at the next round of nuclear talks with world powers, which are slated for the end of January in Istanbul. They will be handled by Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

During an initial round in Geneva last week, in which Mr. Jalili sat down with senior diplomats from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany, Mottaki was conducting other business in Athens and not engaged in the talks.

 One senior European Union diplomat expected no change: “We put emphasis that talks which just started in Geneva will continue and that different political constellations in Iran will not lead to any disruptions or delay in the talks,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Brussels.

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