WASHINGTON – The administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has admitted to conducting a political reshuffle within the atomic energy agency in an effort to mute officials opposed to negotiations with the West over the country’s nuclear program.

In a statement issued on Monday, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said that “a limited number of people were concerned, and they were neither scientists nor were they fired.” The statement was made after rumors of widespread dismissals proliferated on local websites last week.

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Rouhani and his nuclear negotiators are under intense pressure from Islamic hardliners opposed to talks with the United States and five other powers. The Western countries are seeking greater transparency and inspections to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program in return for an end to sanctions.

“If a boss doesn’t have the authority to shuffle around a few among his 15,000-strong personnel, he shouldn’t be called a boss,” the atomic agency spokesman, Behruz Kamalvandi, added.

Meanwhile, in another test for Rouhani, Iran will start cutting gasoline subsidies this week.

The amount of the cut – and the corresponding rise in fuel prices – has yet to be announced, but it will challenge the president’s public support, as higher gasoline prices will add to inflation in a country already squeezed by economic woes.

The subsidy cuts, a long-standing policy that predates Rouhani’s time in office, are aimed at freeing up government money for infrastructure investment, reducing state borrowing from banks so they can lend more to the private sector, and encouraging energy efficiency.

The last subsidy cut took place under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, coupled with international sanctions, contributed to an inflation rate of over 40 percent.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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