Monday, December 13, 2010

Iran's Foreign Minister fired, replaced by Head of Nuclear Program

By William Yong and J. David Goodman, New York Times, December 13, 2010
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired Iran’s foreign minister on Monday, a move that caught many here by surprise and appeared to reflect a strengthening of the president’s power.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Tehran in 2009.
Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a presidential order that he had dismissed the minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, a career diplomat who has for many years been Iran’s face to the West. Mr. Mottaki was on an official trip to Senegal on Monday and did not immediately react to the news, which appeared to catch even the state-run Iranian news media by surprise.
The sacking of Mr. Mottaki seemed to represent a victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has been embroiled in a power struggle with a faction of moderate politicians centered in the Parliament, headed by the speaker, Ari Larijani. 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.
Lawmakers loyal to Mr. Ahmadinejad had recently been threatening to seek his dismissal if the United Nations approved more sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, though he is not involved in nuclear negotiations and some analysts saw that as a pretext for the dismissal. However, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s choice for acting foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, is the head of Iran’s nuclear program and has also served as ambassador to International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
Mr. Salehi graduated from the American University in Beirut and earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a fluid English speaker. It was not immediately evident how his appointment would affect Iran’s posture in negotiations over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing nuclear weapons as well as power. Tehran says it is for peaceful purposes only.
If the move signals increased power and influence for Ahmadinejad, inside Iran, and if this move signals a "beefed-up" response to sanctions against Iran, and if the head of Iran's nuclear program is now the Foreign Minister, is the president trying to insert one of the America's own prestigious doctorates in face-to-face meetings with the Americans?
The question for western diplomats will be, is this a move to counter the sanctions with enhanced negotiating power, or is this a move to signal the potential for compromise and an easing of tensions over Iran's nuclear program?
Hand-picked by the president, Mr. Salehi is not likely to have much credibility at the negotiating table, given his president's history of pontificating at the U.N. while continuing to support terrorist groups in Lebanon, Syria and in Gaza, and cozzying up to Karzai in Afghanistan.
At what point is the balance tipped, and the west begins to consider Iran a "terrorist" organization, in public naming it so, rather than a supporter of terrorist organziations?
What would such a move do to the balance of power in the Middle East?
If Iran were declared a terrorist organization, what would be the impact of such a declaration inside Iraq, where Iran has already wreaked havoc, both militarily and politically?
What would be the implications inside Iran itself, if the west were to unleash the kind of approach against Iran as it does against Al Qaeda?
If there is a "pot" on the stove, with heat under it, and the water inside is heating up, at what stage does the water reach a boil and at what stage does the water boil over, in geo-political terms? And what does that look like, from the Islamic states in the Middle East, who seem to want the U.S. to "take the head off the snake" according to Wikileaks in a quote from Saudi Arabia? And what does it look like from Israel's vantage point? And what does it look like from America's perspective?
And the world continues to watch and wait....

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