Hard-line Iran will jettison 40 diplomats

Associated Press
Published November 3, 2005

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's government announced Wednesday that 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats, including supporters of warmer ties with the West, will be fired, continuing a purge of reformers as the regime takes an increasingly tough stance at home and abroad.

The diplomatic changes are part of a government shake-up by ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that includes putting Islamic hard-liners in key posts at security agencies. Some Iranians worry the president will bring back strict social policies.

Ahmadinejad has steered the Persian state into a more confrontational stance in its dealings with other nations, particularly in facing suspicions about whether Iran's nuclear program is illicitly trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge the regime denies.

Iran met a key demand from the International Atomic Energy Agency and opened a high-security military site to U.N. inspectors looking for signs of a secret nuclear weapons program, U.N. diplomats said Wednesday in Vienna.

But in a worrying sign, one diplomat said, Tehran also has told the U.N. agency it will soon convert more raw uranium into gas - the final step before a process that produces material that can be used to generate electricity or to make atomic bombs.

The president also raised a storm of international criticism last week by calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced the diplomatic shuffle in Iran to parliament. He said that "the missions of more than 40 ambassadors and heads of Iranian diplomatic missions abroad will expire by the end of the year," which is March 20 under the Iranian calendar. The fired diplomats are said to include Iran's ambassadors to Britain, France and Germany.