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Iran: A Surprise Resignation

Today, Iran’s government announced that Ali Larijani, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator since 2005, had resigned, effective immediately. The official IRNA news agency stated that Saeed Jalili, deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, would probably replace Larijani. Said Gholam-Hossein Elham, a government spokesman: “Larijani has resigned due to personal reasons, but this does not mean changes in policies and programs.”

There may be no change in Iran’s underlying approach, but the surprise resignation heralds a shift in tactics. And this development also indicates there are deep rifts in the regime between hardliners like Larijani and even tougher types like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the less experienced Jalili now in place, Ahmadinejad, who is not even in favor of talks with the West, is expected to exercise more control over nuclear policy.

This change in negotiators occurs at an especially sensitive time. The Security Council is waiting for the results of last-ditch discussions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Moreover, Iran seems to have turned down a compromise offered by President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Larijani had originally confirmed Russia’s “special message,” but on Thursday, Ahmadinejad denied its existence. In effect, the Iranian president killed Moscow’s attempt at eleventh-hour diplomacy.

So Ahmadinejad is about to get the global confrontation he has wanted for so long. He is now giving the international community no choice but to have it out with him next month, when the Security Council takes up the matter. We should thank him for forcing the issue at this moment, not two years from now when he will have developed the bomb.