- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Iran’s hard-line government yesterday announced a sweeping recall of 40 ambassadors and other senior diplomats from key foreign posts— many of whom favor better ties with the West — raising fears abroad of even more confrontational policies to come.

Western diplomats, who are trying to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear program, sounded alarms over the future of stalled negotiations between Iran and the European Union.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who made the announcement in parliament, said the mandates “of more than 40 ambassadors and heads of Iranian diplomatic missions abroad will expire by the end of the year,” or March 20, under the Iranian calendar.

Although Mr. Mottaki did not name those who will be removed, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said they included the ambassadors to Britain, France and Germany, the countries leading the nuclear negotiations.

Iran does not have diplomatic relations with the United States, which accuses it of pursuing nuclear weapons.

“The Iranians are digging themselves in a diplomatic hole,” a senior State Department official said after yesterday’s decision.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had already indicated he would pursue a hostile foreign policy — both in his remark last week that Israel should be “wiped off the map” and his speech at the United Nations in September.

Nevertheless, the ambassadors’ removal is an unusual step.

“It would not be a positive step if Iran, through its appointments and what it asked those ambassadors to do, further isolates itself from the rest of the world,” Mr. McCormack said.

A senior European diplomat, while agreeing that the ambassadors’ recall is a “big move,” was more cautious, saying it is too early to tell what kind of people will replace the outgoing diplomats.

One of the most prominent victims of the removal is the ambassador to London, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, a leading member of Iran’s pragmatic foreign policy wing that supports better relations with Europe.

Iranian hard-liners have criticized former President Mohammed Khatami’s government for agreeing to freeze much of the country’s nuclear activities during the talks with the EU, and Mr. Ahmadinejad already has installed some of those hawks on the negotiating team.

Ending the freeze, Iran resumed uranium conversion, a key process in the nuclear cycle, at a plant in Isfahan.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of Tehran, was elected in June.

Diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday that, in further defiance, Iran will process a new batch of uranium at Isfahan beginning next week.

At the same time, Moscow suggested a face-saving plan that would permit Tehran to conduct some less-sensitive nuclear activities in a joint venture on Russian territory.

The United States and the EU have been trying to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for potential sanctions, but Russia and China have blocked those efforts.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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