Why Ahmadinejad fired FM Mottaki

insideIRAN.org reports on the sudden removal of Iran’s foreign minister on Monday.

Mohammad Reza Heidari, a former high-ranking Iranian diplomat in Norway, announced in December 2009 that he was quitting the foreign ministry and not returning to Tehran. He now lives in Oslo, where he spoke with Arash Aramesh of insideIRAN.org about Mottaki’s firing.

Q: Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki was suddenly removed today. Did this surprise you and your friends in Iran’s diplomatic community?

A: In recent months, a number of events took place, which were interpreted by President Ahmadinejad as defeats for Mottaki. Mottaki was blamed for failing to prevent the passage of the UN resolution condemning Iran’s violation of human rights. He was blamed for failing to lead Iran to obtaining a seat in the UN Women’s Rights Panel. Then came the embarrassing story of sending illegal weapons to Nigeria. Mottaki traveled to Nigeria to minimize the damage but he failed there too. And the final blow came when UNESCO did not see Iran fit for holding a conference on philosophy. This was embarrassing to the Islamic Republic. The president tied these so-called defeats together so, if necessary, he would be able to convince the Supreme Leader that Mottaki had to go. Some of my friends and former colleagues in Tehran have told me that the Supreme Leader was not really involved in this and Ahmadinejad made this decision on his own.

He was suddenly removed. This is against diplomatic norms. It is very odd for the country’s top diplomat to be fired like this when the Foreign Minister is on an official visit delivering President Ahmadinejad’s message to the Senegalese government. This is very surprising.

Q: The Minister of Foreign Affairs has always been handpicked by the Supreme Leader. How could the president remove the Minister of Foreign Affairs without Ayatollah Khamenei’s knowledge or consent? Is this a show of power by President Ahmadinejad and sign that the Leader’s position has weakened?

A: There are rumors that Mr. Khamenei is very ill and some decision makers on the top have begun to exclude him from the decision-making process on some issues. It seems that Ahmadinejad’s supporters are stronger now. Mr. Mottaki had the backing of the Leader. Just months ago, the Leader wrote a letter asking Iranian officials to put aside their differences. The Leader specified that the country’s diplomatic affairs must be handled by the foreign minister.

Q: What is the main reason behind Mottaki’s removal?

A: Ahmadinejad wants to homogenize the government and make the nuclear issue the main pillar of his government. I have heard from my friends in the Ministry that Ahmadinejad has expressed his dissatisfaction with Mottaki. Ahmadinejad appointed Ali-Akbar Salehi, the current director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, as acting minister. Salehi is trusted by the Leader as well.

This is also a signal to the world: the person in charge of Iranian diplomacy is the head of Iran’s nuclear program. This implies that the Iranian foreign policy is nothing but the nuclear issue; they are the same thing. The president wants to silence dissenting voices in the ministry. He wants to silence dissent in the Supreme National Security Council, headed by Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. Ahmadinejad wants a confrontational policy and does not like what moderates like Jalili and Mottaki have to say.

Supporters of Ahmadinejad do not want to talk about stopping enrichment. They want to be recognized as a nuclear power to satisfy their fantasy of being a power. Moderate conservatives are cautious and do not like this. The president has been constantly fighting with the parliament. He has had issues with his own conservative camp.

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