President Ahmadinejad abruptly decided last week to sack Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, shocking the political system in Iran. Mottaki was away on a diplomatic trip to the West African nation of Senegal, when the decision was announced.

While the two politicians have had their differences, Ahmadinejad’s move to replace a career diplomat with a nuclear scientist sparked a new debate about Iran’s nuclear intentions. Atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi officially took charge on Saturday as Iran’s new foreign minister and said Tehran’s top priority will be to boost ties with regional power Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Mottaki Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad and Mottaki have been drifting apart for a while and it was considered that Mottaki remained in his position due to his patron, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. It is not clear whether Mottaki’s departure means he lost that patronage, or whether this represents a challenge to Khamenei.

Putting aside the reasons, the political scandal was the lead story in almost all newspapers and news agencies in Iran. Some referred to it as “an earthquake” and many, including conservatives papers, severely criticized President Ahmadinejad for the way he chose to depose the Minister of Foreign Affairs, after 6 years of service.

Even the ultra-Conservative daily Kayhan criticized the method and timing for dismissing the Foreign Minister.

Editor-in-Chief Hossein Shariatmadari, considered a close confident of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, published an editorial titled, “With what justification?” claiming that while the President has the right to fire its ministers, dismissing the minister while officially representing the country abroad is wrong and insulting to the minister.

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While Iranian officials claim Iran’s foreign policy will not be affected by the change, the appointment of the chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran as the head of the diplomatic apparatus indicates the significance of Iran’s nuclear issue in the foreign policy.