The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced two key appointments today, including the country's new atomic chief, signalling important changes in the structure of his expected new government. Mr Ahmadinejad named Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's former envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as new head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, the official IRNA news agency reported. Controversial aide and close relative Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, currently vice president in charge of tourism, will become the new first vice-president, according to the report.
Mr Mashaie replaces Parviz Davoudi who is the current first vice president. There are several other vice presidents in Mr Ahmadinejad's current line-up. The controversial leader has vowed to make "considerable changes" to his government and on Thursday pledged that his new cabinet, to be unveiled in coming weeks, will be "10 times" as powerful as the previous one. Mr Salehi, who replaces Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, is known as an open-minded administrator and was the person who signed the protocol with the IAEA in December 2003 which gave the UN agency a freer hand in inspecting Iran's nuclear sites.
Mr Ahmadinejad's present government stopped applying that protocol, linked to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in February 2006 shortly after Iran's nuclear programme was referred to the UN Security Council. For 12 years Mr Aghazadeh spearheaded Iran's controversial nuclear programme, which the international community suspects is aimed at making atomic weapons, though Tehran denies it. New first vice-president Mr Mashaie, a confidant of Mr Ahmadinejad, is a controversial figure who last year was rapped by the country's hardliners and by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for saying Iran is a "friend of the Israeli people."
His conduct in his new post will be widely watched as Mr Ahmadinejad has earned global condemnation for his sustained tirades against the state of Israel. The Islamic republic has vowed never to recognise Israel, which was an ally of pro-Westerm shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ousted by the 1979 Islamic revolution. Mr Mashaie's promotion is expected to ruffle feathers among the country's clerical groups who heavily influence politics in the Islamic republic.
He provoked the ire of MPs for allegedly watching a Turkish woman dance while at a tourism congress in Turkey in 2007. Mr Aghazadeh has given no reason for his resignation, but he has long been a friend of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition leader who is bitterly disputing Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election and has demanded a complete re-run of the presidential vote. "Mr. Aghazadeh made enormous efforts during years and years in the nuclear field and thanks to him we are today witnessing extensive progress in this area," Mohsen Delaviz, spokesman for Iran's atomic body, said.
"The name Gholam Reza Aghazadeh will forever be written in the nuclear history of the country," he said, adding that the atomic chief will in due course himself explain his decision to quit. Mr Aghazadeh is a veteran official of the Islamic republic and was executive deputy to Mr Mousavi during his premiership in the 1980s. He was also oil minister from 1985 to 1997 during the presidency of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who remains an influential figure and whose sermon in weekly prayers at Tehran University on Friday was keenly awaited.
Under the next president, reformist Mohammad Khatami, Mr Aghazadeh was transferred to head the atomic organisation. He has supervised the nuclear programme which Iran says has developed the technology able to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle. At the heart of Iran's nuclear controversy lies its defiant insistence on continuing to enrich uranium. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make atomic weapons while low enriched uranium is used in nuclear power plants.