World News

Iran names new head of atomic energy body

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s government has named a former envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog as new head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization after its head for 12 years resigned, Iranian media reported on Friday.

The Organization leads a nuclear program that has put Tehran at odds with the West, which fears it is aimed at making bombs. Tehran says it is for peaceful power purposes.

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s former representative to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, was named to replace Gholamreza Aghazadeh as head of the Atomic Energy Organization at a cabinet meeting late on Thursday.

A relative of Salehi, who was Iran’s ambassador at the U.N.’s IAEA under the government of reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, told Reuters he had been offered the post but it was not immediately clear whether he had accepted it.

“In the cabinet’s meeting on Thursday night Ali Akbar Salehi ... was named the new head of the Atomic Energy Organization,” the ISNA news agency said. Other media also carried the report.

The mild-mannered politician is in favor of resolving Iran’s nuclear row with the West through talks, an analyst said.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly ruled out bowing to Western pressure and halting nuclear work which can have both civilian and military uses.

“Salehi’s appointment is a positive signal to the West. Salehi is a logical and soft spoken person who is trusted by the IAEA,” said the analyst, who asked not to be named.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s most powerful figure and has last say on all state matters like Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West.

Aghazadeh, who was also a vice president, announced his resignation on Thursday.

He is an ally of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who backed opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi in a June 12 disputed election, but Thursday’s media reports on his resignation did not say whether it was linked to the vote.

Ahmadinejad won a second four-year term in last month’s election, but Mousavi says it was rigged and that the next government will be illegitimate.

Ahmadinejad, who has signaled he will make changes in his next government that is expected to take office in August, has appointed a new first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, to replace Parviz Davoudi, Iranian media reported.

Mashaie was previously one of at least seven vice presidents and in charge of a culture and tourism body. He came under fire last year for attending a ceremony that involved actions deemed insulting to the Koran, Islam’s holy book.

He also created a storm in 2008 by saying Iran was friendly even to the people of Israel, Iran’s sworn foe. Ahmadinejad had said those comments by his vice-president were misrepresented.

Unlike government ministers, appointments of vice presidents do not need parliamentary approval.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian and Parisa Hafezi; writing by Fredrik Dahl