The firing yesterday of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki remains a somewhat mysterious, if obviously important, event, as does his replacement by ‘Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the nuclear program. (Pics at left: Mottaki on top, then Salehi.) It appears to be a power play by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and may be an indication of deep divisions in the senior leadership.
What follows blends some of my own thoughts with some online discussions which, being off the record, I cannot cite; I will only say I hope it's informed by the views of some who know Iran much better than I.
Observation Number One: It may be as sign that Supreme Leader Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamene'i, who has the ultimate say over key positions like the Foreign Ministry, may indeed be seriously ill and his powers fading. If seems likely it's an attempt by the hardliners to emphasize the centrality of the nuclear issue.
Observation Number Two: Mottaki was fired while on an official visit to Senegal. Firing your Foreign Minister while he's on an official visit seems to suggest either a quick decision or a deliberate attempt to isolate him while outside the country. It certainly suggests more than a routine reshuffle: more an open repudiation.
Observation Number Three: Some accounts suggest that ‘Ali Akbar Salehi, the interim Foreign Minister and head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, may in his latter capacity be banned by the UN sanctions from freely traveling internationally. A Foreign Minister who may be barred from travel?
Observation Number Four: Salehi, who despite the concerns cited above, has a Bachelor's from AUB and a doctorate from MIT (trained back in the 70s when the US was assisting Iran in training nuclear engineers), is said to have the best English of anyone in senior leadership. So he might otherwise be a strong candidate.
Observation Number Five: There have been claims that Mottaki frequently quarreled with Ahmadinejad, who may have blamed him for sanctions and other international setbacks Iran has suffered, even if most were responses to Ahmadinejad's policies, not Mottaki's.
More when (and if) we know more.