At PBS Frontline’s Tehran Bureau, Muhammad Sahimi reports:
“President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has appointed Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and one of his 12 vice presidents, as the country’s interim foreign minister, and has fired Manouchehr Mottaki from the position. This happened while Mottaki is in Senegal to convey his boss’s message to the president of that country.”
The unprofessionalism of that aside, as Homy Lafayette, also at Tehran Bureau, writes: “This development may signal a new round of acrimony between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Majles.”
Beyond that, the Associated Press reports that it may be:
. . . the latest sign of a rift at the top levels of the Islamic theocracy as the country faces intense pressure from the West over its nuclear program. . . . the fired diplomat, Manouchehr Mottaki, is seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And the president may be aiming to install a figure more personally loyal to himself as Tehran resumes critical talks with world powers over the nuclear program.
The latest move is another indication of mounting tension between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Leader met with a group of experts to discuss an “Islamic-Iranian way” of development — none of Ahmadinejad’s cabinet members were invited.
Ahmadinejad has recognized that the ayatollah needs him more than he needs the ayatollah. When he sided with Ahmadinejad, the Supreme Leader lost any residual credibility that he had with a very large segment of the population. [Presumably because of the post-election violence -- RW.] . . . reliable sources in Tehran say that the ayatollah is keenly aware of the loss of his prestige and recognizes that his popular support has grown very narrow. Ahmadinejad recognizes his own lack of significant support, as well. So he has been active on two fronts: defying the ayatollah both covertly and openly, and trying to generate more support for himself. . . . The president and his right-hand man, Mashaei, clearly recognize that a large majority of the Iranian people are tired of the brand of Islam enforced by the clerics.
It sounds like Ahmadinejad doesn’t just want to be president. He may seek to surpass Khameini and become, not the Supreme Leader, but the Supremium Leader.