July 17, 2009 / 8:25 AM / 10 years ago

Iran names new head of atomic energy body: media

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 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 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 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.

“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 announced his resignation 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.

Aghazadeh also served as a minister in the 1980s, when Mousavi was prime minister.

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.

Aghazadeh became head of the Atomic Energy Organization in 1997 and stayed in the post after Ahmadinejad first won the presidency in 2005, despite backing Rafsanjani in that year’s election race to succeed Khatami after his 1997-2005 presidency.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian and Parisa Hafezi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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