Ahmadinejad faces anger in Iran over firing of FM

Top lawmakers and media in Islamic Republic say Mottaki's dismissal points to growing split between president and conservative rivals.

December 14, 2010 19:57
3 minute read.
Iranian President  Ahmadinejad with FM Mottaki

Ahmadinejad Mottaki 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

TEHERAN, Iran — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced outrage at home Tuesday over the ambush-style dismissal of his longtime foreign minister, more evidence of a growing rift in Iran's conservative leadership just as Teheran reopens talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear program.

Iran's leaders tried to quiet the rumblings by insisting there was no fundamental policy shifts behind the surprise decision Monday to dump Manouchehr Mottaki while he was in the middle of a diplomatic mission to Senegal and appoint nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi interim foreign minister.

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But the fallout from some top lawmakers and the media — even one of Teheran's most hard-line newspapers — pointed to bigger questions about growing splits between Ahmadinejad and rivals from within the country's conservative leadership who see the move as a presidential power grab and cronyism.

It also raises the possibility of new friction between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in the country and has clashed with the president over political appointments in the past.

"The dismissal of the foreign minister during a foreign mission will have a heavy price" for Iran's diplomacy, said Mohammad Karamirad, a member of parliament's influential National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

Mottaki has made no public comment. But he returned to Iran Tuesday and was greeted at the foreign ministry by some staff in what appeared to be a show of support and a protest against his dismissal.

Divisions among Iran's conservative blocs have been evident since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election last year — which brought wide-ranging crackdowns on dissidents and marked a sharp rise in the influence of his main backers, the powerful Revolutionary Guard.

But the political dismay over Mottaki's forced exit suggests the fissures could be widening over complaints about Ahmadinejad's combative style and his attempts to keep power among a tight circle of loyalists.

It could leave Ahmadinejad more isolated as the ruling system confronts multiple challenges, including an economy stumbling under international sanctions and whether to continue defying Western demands to halt uranium enrichment — the position that brought four rounds of sanctions on.

Uranium enrichment is the most contentious part of Iran's nuclear program. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used for nuclear power but enriched to higher levels it can be used to make nuclear weapons. The US and its allies suspect Iran is aiming to make a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies.

Talks on the nuclear program between Iran and world powers, including the United States, resumed last week after a long hiatus and the next meeting is scheduled for early 2011.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said placing nuclear chief Salehi as the country's top diplomat did not signal a change of course.

"With the change, we will not see any change in Iran's basic policies," including the nuclear talks, Mehmanparast told reporters in his weekly briefing.

He also stressed that all critical policy decisions come at "higher levels" than the foreign ministry — a clear reference to the Supreme Council of National Security that includes Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.

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