TEHRAN (Reuters) - Ali Larijani, who quit as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, and his replacement will go to talks with the European Union’s Javier Solana to try to defuse a row with the West, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
Larijani’s resignation was announced on Saturday, a move analysts said exposed a rift with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about how to fend off pressure from the West which accuses the Islamic Republic of seeking atomic bombs. Tehran denies this.
Analysts said the change would strengthen the president’s hand in pushing a harder line. One diplomat was wary about the appointment of Saeed Jalili, a presidential ally, as the new negotiator, saying he “specializes in monologue” not debate.
Larijani had been scheduled to go to Rome on Tuesday to meet Solana, the EU foreign policy chief representing six world powers in attempts to resolve the nuclear standoff.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Larijani and Jalili, a deputy foreign minister, would attend but said it was not clear if both would go to future meetings.
Iranian analysts said Larijani’s presence could be part of a handover plan or to show he was not quitting under a cloud.
Hosseini said the reshuffle did not signal any new policy.
“The other parties must not misinterpret the resignation. We have stressed this time and again, all Iranian officials have said the same, that the nuclear matter is a national dossier,” Hosseini told a news conference.
He said the pursuit of peaceful nuclear technology was part of Iran’s “unchangeable goals”.
The final say in nuclear and other policy lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But analysts said changing such a top post would need his approval and Jalili’s appointment indicated support for the president and his position.
The reshuffle comes at a sensitive time when the West is seeking to impose further sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for power plants or, if Iran wanted, material for warheads.
Major powers have agreed to delay such a move until November to see if Iran cooperates with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to answer queries about Tehran’s intentions and to await a report from Solana.
Commenting on the resignation, the English-language newspaper Iran Daily wrote: “There will hardly be any shift in the country’s nuclear agenda. However, it is obvious that the new group will pursue Ahmadinejad’s nuclear direction with added commitment and zeal.”
Ahmadinejad has riled the West with uncompromising speeches vowing no retreat from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and declaring the atomic file closed, although he has said Iran is ready to work with the IAEA to allay suspicions.
Larijani is a conservative who has also said Iran will not retreat but analysts say he has softened his tone during two years as chief atomic negotiator becoming more pragmatic and has been determined to use diplomacy to avert further pressure.
Diplomats who have met Jalili say he has a reputation for sticking strongly to his views, leaving little room for discussion. In recent weeks, he traveled to Europe to hold talks on Iran’s nuclear file.
Although Jalili will take over as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Larijani will stay on the body which helps formulate policy as one of two representatives of the leader on the security council.
Hassan Rohani, who Larijani replaced as chief nuclear negotiator in 2005, also still sits on the council as Khamenei’s other representative.
Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi