Iran's hard-line government said Wednesday that it is removing 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats, including supporters of warmer ties with the West, in a shakeup that comes as Iran is taking a more confrontational international stance. The move gives the new government of ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the chance to purge pro-reform figures brought in by his predecessor, moderate Mohammad Khatami, and install its own supporters.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced the changes to parliament, saying "the missions of more than 40 ambassadors and heads of Iranian diplomatic missions abroad will expire by the end of the year," which is March 20 under the Iranian calendar.
Ahmadinejad has taken a tougher line on a series of issues, particularly in negotiations with Britain, France and Germany over Iran's controversial nuclear program. Hard-liners have criticized Khatami's government for agreeing to freeze much of the country's nuclear activities during the talks, and Ahmadinejad has already replaced much of the negotiating team with hard-liners.
The new president, elected in June, also raised a storm of international criticism a week ago when he called for Israel's eradication, saying it should be "wiped off the map."
Mottaki, quoted by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, did not specify which ambassadors were among those being removed.
But IRNA said they include Iran's ambassador to London, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, one of Iran's top diplomats, considered a leading member of the pragmatic foreign policy wing that supports contacts with Europe and other countries.
There were also unconfirmed reports that the ambassadors to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, the nephew of Khatami's foreign minister, and to Malaysia, Amir Hossein Zamaniniya, who was a senior figure in Khatami's nuclear negotiating team, were also on their way out.
Tensions with Europe and the United States over the nuclear issue are already high after Iran ended part of its freeze on nuclear activities earlier this year, resuming uranium conversion at a plant in Isfahan. Washington accuses Iran of secretly aiming to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies, saying its nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is to meet on Nov. 24 to review Iran's cooperation on the nuclear issue, and Washington is pressing for Tehran to be referred to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face sanctions.
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