July 13, 2005

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator hints may be removed

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hassan
Rohani has hinted that he may be removed by hardline
president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he takes office next

European diplomats have expressed concerns that the
pragmatic secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council
may be replaced by a more hardline official when reformist
President Mohammad Khatami's term ends on Aug. 4, signaling a
hardening of Iran's nuclear policy stance.

"The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council is
appointed by the president and his term will automatically end
by the end of the government," Rohani told state television on
Tuesday night.

"Any further development would depend on the next
government," said Rohani, who has led Iran's nuclear
negotiations with the European Union since 2003.

Iran, which insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to
peaceful purposes, will hold crucial talks with the EU in
August about the long-term future of its atomic program.

The EU wants Iran to scrap nuclear fuel work, such as
uranium enrichment, which could be used to make bomb-grade
material, in return for economic and other incentives.

Iran refuses to give up nuclear fuel cycle work and has
threatened to resume the enrichment-related activities it froze
last November unless the EU recognizes its right to develop a
fully-fledged nuclear program.

Such a move could see Iran's case referred to the U.N.
Security Council, the EU has warned.

Ahmadinejad, who won a landslide election victory on June
24, countered official assurances from Tehran that he would not
alter Iran's stance on the nuclear issue.

"Definitely the new government will adopt new measures
which will be announced later," he said after a meeting on
Tuesday with parliamentarians to discuss his future cabinet's

Local media have said that former state broadcasting chief
Ali Larijani, a hard-liner close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, would replace Rohani and take charge of the
nuclear negotiations with the EU.

But the semi-official Mehr news agency, citing an informed
source, said on Tuesday Larijani would be made Iran's new
foreign minister, replacing Kamal Kharrazi.

Ahmadinejad's office has refused to discuss any speculation
about future cabinet posts.