On 13 December 2010, Ahmadinejad dismisses Manouchehr Mottaki for (yet) unknown reasons and appointed Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Agency, in an acting capacity. Mottaki has been the Foreign Minister of Iran since 24 August 2005. He is the only Minister who was not replaced in Ahmadinejad's Cabinet after Ahmadinejad's reelection. Salehi will be Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs until Ahmadinejad nominates a person to Parliament for this post. No reasons were given for the surprise move, but several Iranian newspapers on Tuesday linked it to disagreements between Ahmadinejad and Mottaki over foreign policy, as it can be a show of power from the part of the president.
Foreign and defense policy -- particularly relating to Iran's sensitive uranium-enrichment work -- is widely seen as the province of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with the Foreign Ministry playing a secondary role.
Mottaki, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Turkey, was sacked while in Senegal on an official visit. Several conservative papers linked the sacking to a dispute between Mottaki and Ahmadinejad over "parallel diplomacy," which flared up in summer after the president named his close aides as special envoys in the region. Ahmadinejad backed down only after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened.
"The president put an end to disagreement with the foreign minister," conservative newspaper Qods said, adding that Ahmadinejad's decision on envoys had drawn Mottaki's "harsh reaction." "Earthquake in foreign ministry" was the headline of Khabar newspaper, which is close to Ahmadinejad's rival if not enemy no.1, parliament speaker Ali Larijani. Mottaki was considered a close confidant of Larijani, whose presidential campaign in 2005 he has managed. "Ahmadinejad knows well that Salehi appeals to the West for his moderate views," Khabar said, predicting that the atomic chief will be "one of the managers to form a new circle in the government although he is not ideologically linked with the president." Hossein Shariatmadari, editor in chief of the staunchly conservative Kayhan newspaper and a man personally appointed by Khamenei, condemned Mottaki's firing as an "open insult." Mottaki's departure removes "the last remaining traditional conservative in the cabinet", according to Ebtekar newspaper
Earlier this month, at a security meeting in neighbouring Bahrain, Mottaki hailed as a "step forward" remarks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear energy programme but only once it has demonstrated it can carry it out in a responsible manner. His comments appeared to cut across the Islamic republic's official position, repeated almost daily, that its enrichment of uranium is non-negotiable.
There were many media reports outlining that the move might be a public message of the president regarding his support from the Supreme Leader. But it might be in the same time a message sent publicly to the Supreme Leader regarding his support among diplomats, intelligence and his Revolutionary Guards. And the diplomatic service, in every totalitarian state, is one of the most exposed to be infiltrated and used for propagandistic and political aims.
Who is Ali Akbar Salehi
He was born on 7 July 1949 in Karbala, Iraq when his family was in Iraq for a religious visit. He earned a BSc from the American University of Beirut and, in 1977, a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he earned in 1977. Salehi is Associate Professor and Chancellor of Sharif University of Technology and a member of the Academy of Sciences of Iran and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy.
He was Chancellor of Sharif University of Technology from 1982 to 1985 and once again in 1989 to 1993.
Ali Akbar Salehi was appointed as Permanent Representative of Iran to International Atomic Energy Agency by President Mohammad Khatami in 13 March 1997 and was in post until 22 August 2005 for more than eight years He was reappointed in this position by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on 16 July 2009, after a surprise resignation of Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the father of the nation’s nuclear program. He was close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric and former president who is a bitter rival of the president. Aghazadeh was among a group of pro-Rafsanjani officials who formed a political party, Kargozaran, in the early 1990s.
There have also been hints of behind-the-scenes differences between Aghazadeh and Ahmadinejad's energy minister over the planned opening of Iran's first nuclear plan at Bushehr, whose opening has repeatedly been delayed.
On 18 December 2003, under former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Salehi signed the Additional Protocol to the safeguard agreement, on behalf of Iran that enabled IAEA inspectors to search Iranian nuclear facilities without notice and without restriction. He was replaced by Ali Asghar Soltanieh. He was also Deputy Secretary-General of Organisation of the Islamic Conference under Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu from 2007 to 2009. He resigned in July 2009 when was appointed as Head of AEAI.
"Iran's major international policies are defined in higher levels and the foreign ministry executes these policies. We will not see any changes in our basic policies," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly briefing. "I don't think there will be any changes in the nuclear policy and the talks" with world powers over Iran's nuclear programme, he said.
“Considering your commitment, knowledge, and valued expertise, and in accordance with Article 135 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and based on this decree, you are appointed as acting foreign minister,” read the presidential directive appointing Salehi to the new post.
The next atomic steps
Salehi was replaced as head of Iran's Nuclear Power Plants Production and Development Company by the acting deputy of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Ahmadian. He is university professor and served in different administrative posts, including the position as the country's deputy energy minister Ahmadian was also the Managing Director of Atomic Energy Production and Development Company -- the Iranian contractor for the Bushehr Atomic Power Plant Construction agreement.
Mottaki’s sacking came just days after Iran held crunch talks in Geneva on December 6 and 7 with world powers over its controversial nuclear dossier.
Further talks are scheduled for next month in Iran's neighbour Turkey despite clear differences at the end of Geneva meeting between Iran and the group of P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Salehi introduced the latest progresses in terms of atomic energy in an intervention for Al Jazeera, February 2010 uttering warnings against those who will oppose Iran’s program. As usual, it is difficult to say how is the “moderate” and who is the “hawk”, as the loyalties are wavering and opened to survival repositionings.
The messages sent by know are not very clear and maybe the next weeks will bring more clarity about the current political chessboard in Iran.