Ahmadinejad fires foreign minister

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TEHRAN/SYDNEY. December 14. KAZINFORM Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad abruptly fired his foreign minister on Monday as he was in the middle of an official visit to Africa and named the nuclear chief as the acting top diplomat.

The president thanked Manouchehr Mottaki for his more than five years of service - spanning Ahmadinejad's entire time in office - but gave no explanation for the change in a brief statement on his website. He named nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also one of the country's 12 vice presidents, to serve as caretaker foreign minister.

"This moves shows not only the internal tensions but the primacy of the nuclear issue as Iran's main foreign policy objective," said Rasool Nafisi, an expert on Iranian affairs at Strayer University in Virginia.

In the past year, there were reports that Mottaki opposed a decision by Ahmadinejad to appoint his own special foreign envoys to key areas such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region. Mottaki found the appointments embarrassing to the Foreign Ministry and allegedly took his complaint to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

Khamenei reportedly sided with Mottaki, forcing Ahmadinejad to moderate his position and change their title only to the level of advisers.

Iranian media have also reported in the past year that some lawmakers were pushing for Mottaki to be dismissed, arguing that he failed to adequately defend Iran at international organizations such as the United Nations.

It was not immediately clear how long Salehi would remain in the caretaker role. The semiofficial Fars news agency says Mohammad Ghannadi, a prominent nuclear scientist, is expected to replace Salehi as the new nuclear chief - an indication Ahmadinejad wants him to keep the job permanently. Ghannadi is currently Salehi's deputy at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

Salehi - or any other candidate - has to win a vote of confidence from the 290-seat Parliament to be appointed to the job, The Arab News reports.

See www.arabnews.com for full version.

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