Iran Nuclear NewsIran’s nuclear envoy resigns; talks in doubt

Iran’s nuclear envoy resigns; talks in doubt

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New York Times: Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, viewed by the West as a moderating influence in Tehran, resigned before crucial talks with Europe this week over Iran’s nuclear program, signaling that officials here may have closed the door to any possible negotiated settlement in its standoff with the West. The New York Times

By NAZILA FATHI and MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: October 21, 2007

TEHRAN, Oct. 20 — Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, viewed by the West as a moderating influence in Tehran, resigned before crucial talks with Europe this week over Iran’s nuclear program, signaling that officials here may have closed the door to any possible negotiated settlement in its standoff with the West.

The negotiator, Ali Larijani, was among a small group of officials who, while supportive of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have tried to press back against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his more radical approach, which has left Iran increasingly isolated.

But with Mr. Larijani’s resignation, it appears that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state, has fallen in squarely behind the president. Mr. Ahmadinejad represents the most radical face of the leadership, which has defied the United Nations Security Council twice and sped up the process of uranium enrichment. Mr. Larijani had been appointed by and reported to the supreme leader.

Now, with oil prices high enough to help Iran mitigate the effects of any new sanctions, and with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, having made a historic trip to Tehran last week, it appears that the top leadership has settled on a single, radical track.

“This is definitely a major political change, and not necessarily a positive one,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst and former government official. “It might mean that Iran is speeding up its activities and is becoming more radical, especially now with higher oil prices.”

Since 2005, Iran has taken a two-pronged approach to its nuclear conflict with the West, allowing Mr. Larijani to negotiate with Europe and the International Atomic Energy Agency, while Mr. Ahmadinejad said that there was no room to negotiate and that Iran would not back down.

While the most immediate impact of the announcement bears directly on nuclear negotiations, which are supposed to resume Tuesday between Iran and the European Union, it also speaks to a broader consolidation of power for Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies in domestic affairs.

Mr. Larijani was scheduled to meet Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, in Rome to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. It was not immediately clear if the meeting would still take place.

The government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Saturday that Mr. Larijani, who was also secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, had offered to resign several times and that his resignation was finally accepted by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

“He said he wanted to have other activities in politics and had asked the president several times to resign from his post,” Mr. Elham was quoted as saying by IRNA.

Despite the announcement, it was not clear weather Mr. Larijani was let go because of his differences with Mr. Ahmadinejad or if he had resigned voluntarily.

American officials have occasionally seemed perplexed about who is guiding policy in Iran; just last month, a senior American official said it appeared that Mr. Larijani’s influence was on the rise.

IRNA reported that the president appointed Saeed Jalili, the deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, to replace Mr. Larijani. Mr. Jalili is an ally of the president and is considered by political analysts here to be a more hard-line figure than his predecessor.

The analysts were surprised by the choice of Mr. Jalili, who is not a prominent figure in the Foreign Ministry. “I don’t think Jalili can lead the talks,” said Muhammad Atrianfar, a former official and the publisher of several newspapers that have been shut down by authorities. “He is not politically senior enough.”

Mr. Larijani will remain the leader’s representative at the Supreme National Security Council, despite resigning as its secretary.

There was speculation by political Web sites in Iran that Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Larijani had differences over tactics and how to pursue talks with Europe. Analysts referred to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s confrontational talk and how his speeches about Iran’s nuclear program had complicated Mr. Larijani’s negotiations with European leaders.

Major decisions, like those about the country’s nuclear program, are made unanimously by senior officials and Ayatollah Khamenei.

The news of Mr. Larijani’s departure came after Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed the negotiator’s assertion that Mr. Putin had delivered a nuclear message to Ayatollah Khamenei during his visit to Tehran. Mr. Ahmadinejad denied that there had been any messages, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Mr. Larijani to replace Hassan Rowhani, a moderate cleric, after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. Mr. Larijani, the former head of state-run television who also ran for the presidency that year, was close to Ayatollah Khamenei.

During his early days as nuclear negotiator, Mr. Larijani criticized Mr. Rowhani’s policies, which were aimed at building confidence over Iran’s nuclear program. It appeared that Mr. Larijani gradually moved closer to those policies and favored negotiations with the Europeans.

However, neither Mr. Ahmadinejad nor Mr. Larijani has suggested that Iran compromise over its enrichment activities.

The United States and some European countries accuse Iran of having a secret weapons program under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. Iran contends that its program is for peaceful purposes.

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Michael Slackman from Cairo.

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