TEHRAN, Iran – The top negotiator of Iran's controversial nuclear program, Ali Larijani, has resigned, the country's government spokesman said Saturday.
The spokesman, Gholam Hossein Elham, did not give a specific reason for Larijani's resignation other than to say he wanted to focus on "other political activities."
"Larijani had resigned repeatedly. Finally, the president accepted his resignation," Elham told reporters.
Elham said Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, was to succeed Larijani, whose resignation was effective immediately.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the claim, saying its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
Elham stressed that Iran's nuclear policy would not change because of Larijani's resignation.
"Iran's nuclear policies are stabilized and unchangeable. Managerial change won't bring any changes in (those) policies," Elham said.
The spokesman said a meeting between the nuclear negotiator and the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, scheduled for Tuesday in Rome would still take place.
"Despite Larijani's resignation, meetings ... won't change. Larijani's successor will meet Solana instead," Elham said.
Larijani was considered a trusted figure within Iran's hard-line ruling Islamic establishment who replaced Iran's former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, who was considered a moderate politician, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005.
However, differences had recently emerged between Larijani and Ahmadinejad and his resignation is seen here as a victory for the hardline president on nuclear policy, giving Ahmadinejad a free hand in dictating his views on Jalili, a little-known diplomat.
Larijani's absence during Russian President Vladimir Putin's meeting with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week further raised eyebrows in Iran's political circles.
Ahmadinejad had appointed Larijani, a former Revolutionary Guards Corps commander and a close ally of Khamenei, as the top negotiator in August 2005 to replace Rowhani. Ahmadinejad had accused Rowhani and his team of technocrats as weak and giving too many concessions to Europeans in nuclear talks.
Before he was appointed, Larijani was the head of Iran's state-run radio and television network and was seen as one of the hard-liners' most effective weapon in curtailing former President Mohammad Khatami's reform program. At the time, Larijani used the official media as a weapon to suppress democratic reforms and prohibited broadcasting information that might have been harmful to hardline clerics.
After Larijani was appointed to the negotiator post, Iran took a more defiant approach to its nuclear program. It resumed uranium enrichment activities leading to its referral to the U.N. Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2006. Iran's refusal to halt enrichment subsequently prompted a resolution by the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on Iran in December 2006 and another resolution widening the sanctions in March.
Larijani, in many cases, held a hardline view on the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West. In 2006, he rejected Western economic incentives in return for a suspension of Iran's nuclear activities, saying the Security Council "should not think that they can make us happy with candies."
But Larijani was also considered to be a moderate figure than Ahmadinejad within Iran's hardline camp. He is seen to be more committed to a diplomatic solution over Iran's nuclear program while Ahmadinejad is not seen as favoring talks with the West over Tehran's nuclear activities.
The differences between Larijani and Ahmadinejad were revealed earlier this year when Larijani was upset after the president contradicted him on whether Iran would attend a meeting in Egypt to discuss Iraq. Larijani traveled to Baghdad in May to discuss Iran's conditions to attend the meeting but was upset after a reporter at the Baghdad airport said Ahmadinejad had already confirmed that Iran would attend the meeting.
The meeting in Sharm el-Sheik brought Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki together for a rare encounter.