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Feeling the international pressure: Iranian president fires FM Mottaki

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fired Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and

Heads are rolling

Mottaki is the first 'victim' of the nuclear impasse, replaced with atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi.

By Farhad Pouladi - TEHRAN

temporarily replaced him with atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday.

It gave no reasons for the surprise move, which comes as Iran is engaged in talks with world powers over its sensitive nuclear programme.

Mottaki, a career diplomat, was appointed to the post of foreign minister in August 2005. He is currently in Senegal on an official visit.

Early December, while attending a security meeting in neighbouring Bahrain, Mottaki hailed as a "step forward" US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks that Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear energy programme.

Clinton had told the BBC that Iran could enrich uranium for civilian purposes in the future, but only once it has demonstrated it can do so in a responsible manner and in accordance with Iran's international obligations.

His comments appeared to cut across Iran's official position, repeated almost daily, which is that the enrichment of uranium by Tehran is non-negotiable.

"I thank you and appreciate the work and the services you have rendered during your tenure in the foreign ministry," Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Mottaki in a directive carried by IRNA.

"I hope your efforts receive a praise by God and you will be successful in the rest of your life at the service of people of our Islamic nation," he added.

IRNA also said that Ahmadinejad in a separate directive appointed Iran's Salehi as the "caretaker of the foreign ministry."

"Due to your commitment, knowledge and valued expertise ... you are appointed as caretaker of the foreign ministry," the directive read.

Salehi is one of Iran's vice-presidents and head of its atomic energy organisation.

According to the law, the president has to submit his nominations for ministerial posts to parliament for approval.

The sacking of Mottaki comes just days after Iran held crunch talks in Geneva December 6-7 with world powers over its controversial nuclear dossier. Further talks are scheduled for next month.

Salehi, who was appointed atomic energy chief in on July 17, 2009, has been a driving force behind Iran's atomic programme and during his tenure, Iran's first nuclear power plant has come on line.

Salehi, a PhD graduate of the prestigious MIT in United States, in his comments after his appointment as Iran's atomic chief said: "Legal and technical discussions about Iran's nuclear case have finished ... and there is no room left to keep this case open."

He served as Iran's representative in the Vienna based International Atomic Energy Agency during the presidency of the reformist Mohammad Khatami.

Ahead of the talks in Geneva, Salehi announced Iran had produced a first batch of uranium yellowcake, the raw material for enrichment.

He said that having previously been obliged to import yellowcake from abroad, Iran was now "self-sufficient" in the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

Mottaki, a fluent speaker of English who is also comfortable in Urdu and Turkish, earned a degree in social sciences from the University of Bangalore in India and a graduate degree in international relations from Tehran University in 1991.

Between serving as diplomat to Ankara from 1985 to 1989 and later Tokyo from 1994 to 1998, he headed the Western Europe section of the foreign ministry in 1989, and has also acted as a deputy FM and consultant between 1984 and 2004.

He was among those elected to the first parliament after Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.

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