Western papers are intent on interpreting the replacement of Ali Larijani as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator as a gain for Iranian Pressident Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  --  The Financial Times of London reported early Monday that the replacement of Ali Larijani as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator with Saeed Jalili, a "deputy foreign minister close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," is being interpreted as "suggesting that the president, who has been consolidating his power within a fractious regime, is extending his authority to the nuclear file."[1]  --  The Independent reported unequivocally that the personnel change "heighten[ed] the risk of U.S. military strikes."[2]  --  The London Guardian went even further, reporting that in the aftermath of Larijani's replacement "speculation grew that the foreign minister, a career diplomat, may be the next to go as the president tightens his grip on nuclear policy."[3]  --  Robert Tait and Ian Black cited unnamed "analysts" who "said the president, who has declared Iran's nuclear case 'closed,' had gained control over the issue and predicted a more inflexible posture in the face of U.N. Security Council demands to suspend enrichment."  --  The Christian Science Monitor took a similar line, quoting prominently warmonger Ali Ansari, who said that Ahmadinejad is "still very much in the driver's seat [and] the consequences for Iranian foreign policy are going to be fairly dire."[4]  --  An Iran specialist at the Univ. of Hawaii said that "The whole Iranian political scene is in shock."  --  Surprisingly, the New York Times did not join in.  --  Usually quick to exaggerate Ahmadinejad's power, in this case the Times cited unnamed "analysts" who "viewed the resignation as an indication of the growing rift between Mr. Larijani, viewed in the West as a moderate, and Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has been less interested in negotiating over nuclear issues," but emphasized that it is "Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all matters of state."[5] ...


World news

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr (Tehran) and Roula Khalaf (London)

Financial Times (UK)
October 22, 2007


The sudden departure of Iran's leading nuclear and security official was greeted with dismay in Tehran political circles amid concern that a power struggle at the highest levels of the regime has exploded into the open.

In Western capitals, too, the announcement that Ali Larijani, head of the Supreme National Security Council, had resigned, to be replaced by a deputy foreign minister close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, raised fresh worries about Iran's nuclear policy.

The move comes weeks before the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is due to issue a critical report assessing Iran's compliance with its pledge to explain suspicious past nuclear activity. It also comes days before Mr. Larijani was due to meet Javier Solana, the European foreign policy chief, in Rome.

The foreign ministry yesterday said the change did not signal a shift in policy and that Mr. Larijani would accompany Saeed Jalili, his successor, to Rome on the "insistence" of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

Iran newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said in an editorial that the new round of talks with the IAEA and the EU required "the shock change of negotiating team" so that Mr. Ahmadnejad's policies would be pursued "with more energy."

Mr. Larijani had sought to resign several times in the past, reportedly arguing that the president's hardline rhetoric was undermining his efforts to resolve the nuclear dispute. He was said, however, to have been held back by Mr. Khamenei, the ultimate decision-maker, to whom he reported directly.

Although Mr. Larijani's departure is believed to have been decided earlier this month, his differences with Mr. Ahmadinejad emerged publicly last week during a visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran.

Mr. Larijani, who did not attend a meeting between Mr. Putin and the supreme leader, said the Russian president had come to Iran with a "nuclear proposal" -- a statement that was denied by Mr. Ahmadinejad the following day.

Mr. Jalili, a close ally of the president and currently deputy foreign minister for Europe and America, was appointed by Mr. Ahmadinejad as the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, suggesting that the president, who has been consolidating his power within a fractious regime, is extending his authority to the nuclear file.

Traditionally the post has been held by a direct representative of the supreme leader but decisions are made by a collective leadership, which includes the president. Mr. Jalili's appointment has raised fears in Tehran that the Council is shifting towards an even more confrontational approach.

Ahmad Tavakoli, a prominent fundamentalist parliamentarian, was among Iranian politicians who praised Mr. Larijani yesterday and expressed concern over Mr. Jalili's appointment.

Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a reformist politician, meanwhile warned on his weblog that the change could have "dangerous" consequences for Iran at a time when "the world is looking for pretexts and wants to have another victim in the region, called Iran."

Mr. Larijani was the architect of a "work plan" agreed with the IAEA in August and seen as a clever tactical Iranian move to curb international pressure. By promising to come clean on its past nuclear experiments -- without, however, suspending uranium enrichment as demanded by the U.N. -- Tehran successfully delayed U.S. efforts to impose a fresh round of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.

"The departure of Larijani raises questions about what happens to the work plan," said a Western diplomat yesterday. "The attitude of the IAEA for now is to wait and see."

In an interview with the Financial Times this month, Mr. Larijani insisted Tehran would not suspend uranium enrichment but he also said he was open to all ideas Mr. Solana might put on the table. Mr. Ahmadinejad, however, has been saying that the nuclear file is "closed."

Moreover, in an apparent reference to Mr. Larijani, Iran's president earlier this month attacked those who "on their own negotiate on the nuclear issue . . . but should know if they want to go for a new game, there will be no achievement but regret and disgrace for them."

Mr. Jalili has also appeared to be supportive of the "work plan." He was sent to Europe last month to try to persuade European governments to back the deal.

Speaking to the FT in London at the time, he echoed Mr. Larijani's line, arguing that the deal with the IAEA was an attempt to indicate Iran's "goodwill," rather than a ploy to buy time. He said Tehran would not seek to draw out implementation, predicting it would be completed within three months.

Iranian opposition politicians, alarmed by the president's policies, had become increasingly supportive of Mr. Larijani. But they also say that Mr. Khamenei has recently given Mr. Ahmadinejad his full backing, believing that his radical approach is paying off.



Middle East

By Anne Penketh

Independent (London)
October 22, 2007


The shock resignation of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the country's future co-operation with U.N. inspectors, heightening the risk of U.S. military strikes.

Iran sought to reassure the West yesterday that Tehran's policy over negotiations with Western powers attempting to curb its nuclear program would not change after the replacement of Ali Larijani with a reputedly hardline deputy foreign minister, Saeed Jalili.

Mr. Jalili is more closely associated with the radical Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than Mr. Larijani, who had been a rival of Mr. Ahmadinejad in the last presidential elections. Iran's nuclear policy is, however, decided by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to whom Mr. Jalili will report in future.

In a further sign that Tehran wanted to reassure the West, negotiations between the European security chief, Javier Solana, and Mr. Larijani are to be held as expected in Rome tomorrow. Mr. Larijani will be accompanied to the talks by his successor. The Europeans are offering a package of economic and technological incentives if Iran agrees to suspend its uranium enrichment program which has fuelled concern around the world about Iran's intentions because the process can eventually lead to production of a bomb.

But Iran has steadfastly refused to bow to U.N. demands to halt enrichment. President Ahmadinejad said in August that the nuclear dossier is now "closed" and talk of U.S. military strikes was "propaganda." Mr. Jalili's links to the president, known for his fiery brand of rhetoric, could signal that Iran does not fear challenging the U.S., at a time when President Bush is saying a nuclear Iran would trigger "World War Three."

The timing of Mr. Larijani's departure comes at a critical stage in an agreed "work plan" between the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran, which is engaged in a race against the clock to avert the threat of additional U.N. sanctions before the end of the year.

The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who feels directly threatened by the Iranian nuclear program, is touring European capitals to press for strengthened U.N. sanctions.

Iran has promised to clear up outstanding questions regarding its past nuclear activities within weeks in an attempt to prove to the International Atomic Energy Agency that its nuclear program is purely peaceful.

The U.N. Security Council will wait until next month, when the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei is to report back on progress before considering further sanctions. "Either they co-operate, or they don't. That's what we're going to judge," said a Vienna-based diplomat, who described the departure of the pragmatic Mr. Larijani as "unfortunate."

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, is to discuss the impact of the replacement of Mr. Larijani, and the "next steps" on Iran with the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington today, according to a Foreign Office spokesman.

The U.S. continues to stress a diplomatic solution is Washington's preferred route to resolve the standoff with Iran over the country's right to enrich uranium but is refusing to rule out the military option.

The hawkish U.S. Vice President, Dick Cheney said yesterday that Iran was a "growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East" and warned of consequences if Iran did not halt its sensitive nuclear activities.

Mr. Jalili has served since 2005 as deputy foreign minister and was responsible for Europe and America.


Special report


By Robert Tait and Ian Black

** Chief negotiator resigns after rift on strategy -- Doubts surround future of foreign minister **


Doubts surrounded the future of Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, yesterday after the departure of the country's chief nuclear negotiator appeared to signal a significant power shift to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A day after Ali Larijani resigned as secretary of the supreme national security council, speculation grew that the foreign minister, a career diplomat, may be the next to go as the president tightens his grip on nuclear policy.

Mr. Larijani quit after differences with the president over Iran's negotiating strategy. Despite being staunchly opposed to abandoning the country's uranium enrichment program -- which the West suspects is designed to build a nuclear bomb -- Mr. Larijani favored diplomatic engagement to relieve international pressure, in contrast to the president's defiant approach.

Western diplomats in Tehran were adopting a "wait and see" approach yesterday to the appointment of Mr. Larijani's successor, Saeed Jalili, 42, a hawk and close ally of the president. But analysts said the president, who has declared Iran's nuclear case "closed," had gained control over the issue and predicted a more inflexible posture in the face of U.N. Security Council demands to suspend enrichment.

The foreign minister is believed to have been frozen out of major decision-making, and rumors of his impending departure have circulated for weeks. "Mr. Mottaki has a diplomatic background, but the president is looking for people with a special military and intelligence background," said a political analyst, Issa Saharkhiz. "They plan to give a tough, uncompromising reaction to the U.N. Security Council sanctions, and for this they want people with less diplomatic backgrounds and who least believe in dialogue with Western nations."

Mr. Larijani played a key role in the release of the 15 British sailors and marines who strayed from Iraq into Iranian territorial waters last spring. That paved the way for a secret meeting in Europe between him and Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser, Nigel Sheinwald.

But the Foreign Office played down the significance of the move. "At the end of the day I don't think it's a question of individuals," a spokesman said. "The Iranians are quite clear on what the international community expects of them."




By Scott Peterson

** Iran's abrupt change of nuclear negotiators spotlights internal power struggles, too. **

Christian Science Monitor
October 22, 2007


ISTANBUL -- The abrupt resignation of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator signals a turn toward a harder line with the U.S. and Europe as talks over Iran's nuclear program resume in Rome Tuesday.

The high-level change also exposes a power struggle between conservative factions in Iran, say analysts, that has now boosted the power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while raising questions about the calculations of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei.

It shows that Mr. Ahmadinejad is "still very much in the driver's seat [and] the consequences for Iranian foreign policy are going to be fairly dire," says Ali Ansari, author of *Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Conflict in the Middle East*. "It plays right into the hands of American hard-liners."

Iranian officials insist that the departure of Ali Larijani, the conservative secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and a former protégé of Ayatollah Khamenei, will not alter Iran's nuclear policy. But naming a relatively obscure official with little negotiating experience to replace him is not likely to produce a breakthrough either.

"The whole Iranian political scene is in shock," says Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii. "That puts a lot of pressure on Mr. Khamenei right now to come in and explain, justify, and more importantly, calm down the political environment."

"Mr. Khamenei has been put on the spot because [it] either says that he is out of control -- that he doesn't have control over what is happening in the country -- or he is on the side of Mr. Ahmadinejad," says Ms. Farhi, contacted in Boston.

Such a position could prove difficult for the supreme leader, "because there is a tremendous amount of unhappiness, even among the conservatives, about the way things are being run in Iran," adds Farhi. "If all of that from now on should be blamed not only on Ahmadinejad but also on Khamenei . . . that undermines [his] position as a consensus builder."

Iran is under increasing pressure from the West, which accuses Iran of trying to build a nuclear weapon -- a charge Iran denies. American diplomats are pushing for a third set of U.N. Security Council sanctions over Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Last week, President Bush said he had been telling world leaders, "If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems you ought to be interested in preventing them [the Iranians] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

But Iran's strategies for peaceful nuclear energy are "unchangeable goals" regardless of who negotiates, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Sunday. "There is complete solidarity among the ranks of Iranian officials."

Mr. Larijani, a hard-liner and the candidate chosen by Iran's traditional conservatives months before the June 2005 presidential elections, has led Iran's side in all crucial talks since then. He was highly critical of the more moderate negotiating tactics of his reform-minded predecessors, and in 2006 dismissed an offer of Western economic incentives in exchange for halting Iran's nuclear program, saying the Security Council "should not think that they can make us happy with candies."

But Larijani is widely known to have been frustrated at Ahmadinejad's uncompromising public stance, and even direct public contradictions that eroded his negotiating room. The latest came this week, when Ahmadinejad refuted a statement made by Larijani that Russian President Vladimir Putin had given a nuclear proposal to Khamenei. Iran's state news agency quoted Khamenei telling Mr. Putin he would "ponder your words and proposal," which Iranian officials believed may have involved trading a "time out" on U.N. sanctions for Iran suspending enrichment. One official was quoted saying the "main reason for Putin's visit was to convey this message." Khamenei told Putin that Iran was "avoiding adventurism and not giving pretexts to the enemy."

Over time, Larijani has won some plaudits for his diplomacy. He was instrumental in resolving a crisis when Iran's Revolutionary Guard force seized 15 British sailors in Iraqi waters and accused them of spying last April. And he oversaw an agreement with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog in August that aims to clarify all outstanding nuclear issues by year's end.

Part of the surprise for Iran watchers has been the speed of Larijani's departure for "personal reasons," and how quickly his successor -- Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister and Ahmadinejad ally -- was named.

Experts say Mr. Jalili, who was just 14 years old at the time of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, is a hard-line dogmatist. Reuters quoted a diplomat in Tehran saying Jalili "specializes in monologue," not debate.

The choice is in keeping with the ascent of several key Ahmadinejad picks who, in ministries of interior, intelligence, and culture, have focused on creating a conservative "security outlook" across Iran to defend against "enemies."

"Jalili is even more anti-Western" and behind a number of "very provocative" diplomatic moves aimed at the British, says Mr. Ansari, who teaches at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "Larijani was most obviously Khamenei's man," says Ansari. "There is something not right here, otherwise [Khamenei] would be in there to protect his man."

Already there are a chorus of complaints, with some ranking members of parliament calling for an investigation. Conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli said: "The experience and positions held by Larijani are not comparable with the deputy foreign minister, who has little experience."

The English-language Iran Daily newspaper said Iran's nuclear plans would not change, but that "it is obvious that the new group will pursue Ahmadinejad's nuclear direction with added commitment and zeal."

Days before Larijani resigned, his predecessor Hassan Rohani, who still sits on Iran's security council, issued this warning in the newspaper *Etemad-e Melli*: "We are now, more than ever, under threat. A country's diplomacy is successful when it doesn't allow the enemy to find more allies against it. Unfortunately our enemies are increasing."

The political jousting comes after several signs that Iranians -- and Khamenei -- appeared to have been trying to rein in the most vocal hard-liners, led by Ahmadinejad. The president's allies were trounced in elections last December, while rival Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- a former president and head of the powerful Expediency Council -- did very well.

Mr. Rafsanjani was further elevated in September to head the Experts Assembly, which can oust the supreme leader, but so far there has been little moderating affect [sic] on the president.

It's becoming more difficult to predict Iran's course, says Farhi. "We are dealing with extremely contested political terrain. Players are involved in a very intense process of making decisions that both create consensus about foreign policy [while] not losing their political position. That creates a very fluid dynamic," she says, "that does not allow us to talk about trends."



Middle East

By Nazila Fathi

New York Times
October 22, 2007


TEHRAN -- Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, who resigned Saturday, will accompany his replacement to nuclear talks in Rome on Tuesday with Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

The former chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, who had headed Iran’s negotiating team since 2005, will accompany Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister who was appointed as his successor, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Sunday, the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Mr. Hosseini said Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all matters of state, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had insisted that Mr. Larijani attend the meeting, the news agency said.

Mr. Larijani, who resigned from his position as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, was responsible for leading negotiations with Europe over Iran’s nuclear program. Analysts viewed the resignation as an indication of the growing rift between Mr. Larijani, viewed in the West as a moderate, and Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has been less interested in negotiating over nuclear issues.

However, he remains a member of the council as the supreme leader’s representative.

Mr. Hosseini said it was still not clear weather Mr. Larijani would accompany Mr. Jalili to future meetings as well.

But he added that Mr. Jalili’s appointment did not signal a change in Iran’s nuclear policy. “We have always stressed that the nuclear case is a national issue and our officials will pursue it with sensitivity,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying.

In the meantime, a group of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran on Friday to continue their talks on uranium enrichment work, the news agency said. The delegation, headed by Olli Heinonen, the agency’s deputy director, held discussions with Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaeedi, two weeks ago. The atomic agency hopes to get answers to its questions about Iranian centrifuges, ISNA reported.