Iran has demoted its top nuclear negotiator, replacing him as deputy foreign minister with an opponent of concessions to the West, state media reported Wednesday.
Analysts said the shakeup was intended as a warning that much tougher policy could be expected if talks drag on to bring Washington back to a landmark nuclear deal that was abandoned by former US President Donald. Trump.
Abbas Araghchi was one of the key negotiators of the 2015 deal, but his role in the talks will now be limited to that of an adviser to the ministry, state media said.
Araghchi wrote in an Instagram post that “I thank God for allowing me to serve as deputy minister during these critical and tense years,” wishing “success” to Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his own replacement.
The vice minister position will be filled by Ali Bagheri, a protégé of ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who served as his deputy for international affairs when Raisi was head of the judiciary.
Raisi assumed the presidency in early August, replacing the moderate Hassan Rouhani, the main architect of the Iranian side of the 2015 agreement.
The deal gave Iran a loosening of Western and UN sanctions in exchange for tight controls on its nuclear program, overseen by the UN.
But in 2018, President Trump dealt a crippling blow by withdrawing and reimposing tough US sanctions.
Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has said he wants Washington back to the deal.
But talks to do so have stalled since the change of president in Tehran.
Bagheri, 53, has repeatedly criticized Rouhani for the strict limits he agreed to on Iran’s nuclear activities and his willingness to grant “foreigners” access to Iranian nuclear plants and other “sensitive security facilities.”
Analyst Mehdi Zakerian said the appointment firmly put Iran’s nuclear policy in the hands of ultraconservatives close to Raisi.
“In the Raisi administration, the key personalities at the negotiating table are now the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and Ali Bagheri,” Zakerian told AFP.
“Bagheri’s appointment should be seen as a clear warning to the West, as the new team is likely to call into question the entire basis of the nuclear deal and abandon all Iranian commitments if the Americans delay their return to the 2015 deal. “.
After Raisi assumed the presidency in August, Iran suggested that indirect negotiations with Washington on its return to the deal were unlikely to resume for two to three months.
Hopes for a deal were kept alive in recent days thanks to Iran’s agreement with the UN nuclear agency on a new commitment regarding the surveillance of its nuclear sites.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said that the measure “gives time for diplomacy”, but called for “firmness” with Iran.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last week that time was running out for a deal that must also address Iran’s retaliatory suspension of many of its own commitments.