Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) seems to have axed Manuchehr Mottaki as foreign minister more for domestic political reasons than policy differences.
One of Manuchehr Mottaki's last acts before being suddenly axed as Iran's
foreign minister was to express solidarity with British students who he said had
been "brutally suppressed" by police while protesting against tuition fee hikes.
It was a position entirely consistent with that of the government he served -- ever keen to highlight perceived Western double-standards and hypocrisy on issues like human rights.
So too was his fronting, in December 2006, of a notorious conference in Tehran held ostensibly to "scientifically" examine the truth of the Jewish Holocaust. The event, attended by a retinue of known Holocaust-deniers, was organized after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad had described the Holocaust as a "myth" and questioned whether the massacre of 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II really happened.
Thus, when Ahmadinejad suddenly fired Mottaki without explanation on December 13, suggestions that he had been motivated by a desire to get rid of a man of more moderate views appeared not to bear scrutiny.
Rather than policy, the differences between the two revolved around the personal, rather "than anything structural or ideological," says Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland.
"My sense is that it is about who is in charge of running Iranian foreign policy
but it is also probably to do with the fact that they eventually couldn't get
on," Ansari says, noting that a "number of people" who have joined Ahmadinejad's
government have later fallen out with him "and these disputes have little to do
with a hard-line view or a difference in a hard-line view.
Rather, Ansari says the issue is that Iran's president "likes to keep things very centralized within his own person and doesn't like other people to take responsibility for anything. And Mottaki, in some ways, sought to operate, not as an independent minister, but as someone with a certain degree of responsibility and so there should have been a certain formality."
That view appeared to be borne out by the Foreign Ministry's official spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, on December 14 when he told journalists that Mottaki's interim replacement, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, was unlikely to herald wholesale policy change, especially regarding the country's disputed nuclear program:
"Customarily the policies of the establishment are decided at higher levels and different management carry these policies out," Mehmanparast added.
Foreign and defense policy -- particularly relating to Iran's sensitive uranium-enrichment work -- is widely seen as the province of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with the Foreign Ministry playing a secondary role.
Vulnerable For Many Reasons
Yet if Mottaki, 57, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Turkey, was a relatively minor player within the Iranian political machinery, his relatively high profile seemed to make him a target of the president's ire. Rumors of his imminent demise within Ahmadinejad's government have a history predating his eventual dismissal.
Despite his Foreign Ministry background and a fluency in English and Urdu, he was widely believed to be vulnerable after the president forced out Ali Larijani as chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in November 2007 and installed a close ally, Said Jalili. Mottaki was seen as a confidant of Larijani, whose failed 2005 presidential election campaign he had managed.
He was also perceived to be aligned to a pragmatic conservative faction in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis -- of which Larijani is now speaker -- which has repeatedly tried to clip the wings of a president it believes to be too abrasive and unaccountable.
Is Ahmadinejad (right) looking to put Larijani and parliament in their place?
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