Shakeup at the Iranian Nuclear Agency

I didn’t see any major notice of this in the American press, but the Times (UK) reported last week that the director of Iran’s nuclear program, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, resigned. Aghazadeh was a political ally of Mir Hossein Moussavi and also closely aligned with Ali Rafsanjani. More importantly, he was an able and effective administrator of Iran’s nuclear program for 12 years, leading the Times to speculate that his resignation was a setback for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I initially had a less optimistic take, wondering whether his departure didn’t leave an opening for Ahmadinejad to fill with a hardliner. But as the AFP later reported, Ahmadinejad named Ali Akbar Salehi to replace him. Salehi was formerly the Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and it was during his tenure that Iran actually signed the Additional Protocol and showed the most willingness to cooperate with IAEA inspections.

This suggests two things, not necessarily mutually exclusive. The first is that Ahmadinejad has taken the Iranian opposition’s criticism of his belligerent style to heart, and this on the most thorny issue at hand between Iran and the international community. The other is that the Iranian nuclear program enjoys such a consensus among Iran’s political elite, that it essentially ensures a large degree of continuity in its administration.

Like I said, they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but if I had to guess, I’d go with the latter interpretation. I’d also point out that this doesn’t necessarily have only negative implications. Although it does point to a national consensus on uranium enrichment that will be hard to negotiate away, it also points to a rational, cost-to-benefit approach to maintaining the program in its current civilian iteration.

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